A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
I think Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink is one of the most disturbing books that I have read in a long time. In this award-winning book from 2013, there are no totally evil people on which to blame what may have been unnecessary Hurricane Katrina-related deaths at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans in 2005, but many seemingly good people behaved in ways inconsistent with their training and ideals. The doctors and nurses at Memorial Hospital were obviously in a crisis and not helped by the shockingly inadequate response of the corporation that owned the hospital, but they let their fears blind them to other courses of action than those that they took. Tragically, they had more resources within easy reach than they realized. Lack of planning and poor communications inside and outside the hospital led to fatal confusion. Patients could have been treated for their diseases and kept more comfortable throughput the crisis. Some might have been saved. Fink tells the story in much fascinating and dramatic detail.
There are many lessons to be learned from Hurricane Katrina stories, but, as the author tells in the later chapters and the appendix to Five Days at Memorial, people are not learning them. Our society does not as a whole have a will to make the sacrifices and do the work necessary to prevent such tragedies. Fink tells how a hospital in New York performed much better in Hurricane Sandy, showing that preparation and clearer thinking can make a difference, but she also reports on many cases in which medical personnel and community emergency workers make the same mistakes made in New Orleans.
Five Days at Memorial is a large book and a great read for someone willing to make the effort. It’ll give you great appreciation for disaster preparedness. – Review by Rick