Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Five Days at Memorial - Fink

Though we can can never really know what occurred at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the days during, and following, Hurricane Katrina, Dr. Sheri Fink has presented as thorough a picture of the events of those five eventful days as possible in First Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital.

We do know that much of New Orleans was destroyed to winds, rain and ultimately flooding. Through her exhaustive research of interviews and legal documents, we also know that municipal authorities were unprepared, despite previous experience with such events, and that federal authorities were slow to provide relief. We also know that thousands of people left in the city were desperate for help, safety and rescue, including those left at Memorial Medical Center.

Additionally, we know that Memorial's parent company was grossly unprepared for such an such an event and could not, and did not, offer speedy assistance evacuating patients before or after the storm (in fact hospitals were not required too evacuate prior to the storm, per the city's mayor). Despite that, the remaining hospital staff worked diligently (for the most part) round the clock to help their patients, even recruiting others who had taken shelter in the hospital to care for patients. And finally, we know that, despite that care, forty-five patients were left dead. A number far greater than seen in any other hospital in the New Orleans area.

According to Dr. Fink's research, after days of being stranded with little help or response from rescuers, some doctors/administrators at the hospital made a decision to assist patients who they deemed were unlikely to live through the ordeal. The method of assistance was injections of both morphine and sedatives. A deadly mix, in the opinion of multiple forensic pathologists, which caused the demise of many of those gravely ill patients.

When the tragedy was over, legal authorities set about proving that the injections given by Dr. Anna Pou ("Poe"), a much loved physician who many thought of as a healing angel given her work with cancer patients, and others were in fact a form of euthanasia. Hospital staff refuted that theory and swore they were only trying to provide comfort for these patients (many of whom were not even patients of the doctors' employer Memorial Medical Center, but of a sister company, LifeCare, which rented space in the hospital building), who were suffering terribly.

Ultimately, no one was indicted or convicted of any crime but question still exists. Many believe that doctors euthanized patients to speed up the evacuation of less ill patients, and/or to avoid having to deal with these very sick patients any longer.  Some still feel that someone (other than the dead) should have paid a price for the horrible decisions that were made during that event.

Extremely well research and written, this book is an awesome read. It is a very thorough and gives you a real feeling for what occurred and how such a thing could have occurred, given the dire situation. Yet, the book also left me with the feeling that someone should have been held responsible for these terrible events, a least the unprepared and incompetent parent company.

If I had only one complaint, that would be that the final chapter of the book seemed to be the "epilogue", while the epilogue served the purpose of informing readers as to the history and legalities behind euthanasia. This seemed a ridiculous point in the book to go into such deep and important background. I wish this had been incorporated within the book itself. By the end of the book, I was rushing to return it to the library and felt that I skimmed this info more than I would have perferred.

Overall though, a really great read!

4/5- Great. Push it on your friends and family.