Sunday, September 29, 2013

Five Days at Memorial

Title:  Five Days at Memorial
Author:  Sheri Fink
Publication Information:  Crown Publishers. 2013. 429 pages.

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review. The book came as a paperback advance uncorrected proof.

Favorite Quote:  "What was it about death in the United States? Why did it seem like American were so unprepared for it when it occurred? .... People often did not want to talk about death with the dying, or be there with a relative when it happened. Why did we celebrate every milestone in life except this one? Everyone wanted to be there to witness the beginning of life, but the ration of birth to death was one to one. We all had to learn to say good-bye and give our loved ones the dignity to acknowledge we knew they were going."

Five Days at Memorial brings to life the events at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the five days following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the philosophical, moral, ethical and legal battle that ensued after.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, about 2,000 patients were evacuated from Memorial Medical Center, and over 45 bodies were found at the hospital. Several of the deceased were found to have large doses of pain medications in their system - doses large enough to be lethal. It was alleged that the doctors at Memorial, Dr. Anna Pou in particular, had euthanized patients. In 2006, a case was brought to the grand jury against Dr. Pou. After months of investigation, the grand jury failed to indite.

This book documents these in two distinct portions. The first is a reconstructed story of those five days - the water, the lack of sanitation and power, the evacuations, the decisions as to which patients could not be evacuated. The second part begins with the initial inklings that the decisions made at Memorial may not have been in the best interests of the patients. It takes the reader through the details of the ensuing investigation, the charges to the grand jury, and the ultimate decision of the grand jury to not indite. The final few pages present the reaction of different people involved to the grand jury decision.

Sheri Fink is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist. She brings those investigative skills to this book. In the author's note, she points out that the research for the book took place over the course of two years and included over 500 interviews. The biggest issue with the book is its length and the extreme detail included. The book itself begins with a five page long list of "selected individuals" who are part of this history. I found myself sometimes getting lost in who the people were and then getting mired down in the details. Eventually, I found myself skimming through the details to follow the main thread of the investigation.

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