Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book review: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

I had heard such great things about this audiobook that I was actually looking forward to a lot of long driving I had in my schedule this month! And then it won the Pulitzer Prize so expectations were high. But it held up.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the city wasn't near ready. And it hadn't been for decades. The problems that ensued, were all known issues (although the odds of all of them happening at once were, admittedly, minuscule.) As we all know now, it wasn't the hurricane itself that caused the most trouble, it was the flooding afterwards from the failed levees. And yet, that wouldn't have been as much of a problem if people had evacuated. If only the mayor had given the evacuation order sooner. If only they had been more organized (a lot of the poor in New Orleans do not own cars). And why, oh why, were hospitals exempted from the evacuation order? Particularly hospitals with generators below ground level? Like Memorial Hospital.

The question here was, did doctors and nurses kill patients deemed unable to move? Was it euthanasia? Murder? Could it have been prevented? Were they being kind and putting sick, unhappy people in pain out of their misery? How can something like this be prevented from happening again?

Situations like this happen so rarely in the United States, it is fascinating to see how people actually react in a true crisis, one that goes on for days and looks like it might not end. At times it did have the feel of a post-apocalyptic movie. Unthinkable decisions start to be... thinkable. What was the right thing to do? What would you have done?

The book doesn't answer all these questions, but they are important question to raise, and hopefully for all hospitals and cities and the like to address before the next disaster happens. No region of the country is immune to natural disasters, even if they aren't all in the hurricane's path.

I bought this book from Audible.

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