Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri Fink
54/30 | Started 10.12.22 • Finished 12.26.22 | 4 stars
A monster of a book that took me two chunks of time to read (had to take a break to fit in a book club book). This sprawling work covers the five days at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. The hospital flooded and lost power, leaving patients, doctors, nurses, and shelterers essentially stranded. The hospital did have a long unused helipad that was eventually used to ferry people to safety, but the time between the beginning of the crisis and the arrival of the helicopters was disastrous. Fink relays the unfolding situation in dramatic and gripping fashion, which kept me turning pages long after bedtime.
Fink's work is somewhat of a marathon, not just because of its length - a whopping 602 pages - but because of its scope. After telling the post-Katrina story, Fink dives into the case against Dr. Anna Pou, a surgeon at Memorial Hospital who was accused of euthanizing several patients towards the end of the ordeal. Drawing from myriad sources, Fink explores the case without bias, telling both sides and never drawing her own conclusion. Accompanying this documentation is a history of bioethics, especially relating to disaster conditions or extenuating circumstances. There are some points where this becomes a bit of a slog, but I think it was worth reading to learn about the many ins and outs of these kinds of situations.
Emergencies are crucibles that contain and reveal the daily, slower-burning problems of medicine and beyond—our vulnerabilities; our trouble grappling with uncertainty, how we die, how we prioritize and divide what is most precious and vital and limited; even our biases and blindnesses.
I actually only heard about this one because Apple TV put out an excellent limited series based on the book. It was so good I knew I needed to read the book. And the show is actually quite true to the book. I'd truly recommend this one for the riveting retelling of those five days and for the exceptional discussion of Pou's case and ethics in general.