Released September 10, 2013
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Crown)
Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on my Page Turners list.
An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.
Why I Read It
This was the book that got the most votes from my Nonfiction November Reading Options post…plus, it’s been on my TBR for a couple years now and I felt like the last person on earth who hadn’t read it.
End-of-life care, euthanasia, prioritization of medical care, disaster preparedness, aftermath of a disaster
What I Liked
- I think it’s rare for nonfiction to feel like a fast-paced page turner, but this one did. Particularly in Part 1, which focused on the play-by-play of what happened in the hospital during and immediately following Hurricane Katrina.
- Comparing Five Days at Memorial to The Martian might seem odd. But, I got the same frantic feeling as I did while reading The Martian; of putting out a fire just to have a new one crop up…and being on the edge of my seat wondering whether they’ll survive each new setback.
- This book is about so much more than just the events at Memorial. It’s about end-of-life medical decisions, euthanasia, medical ethics, the prioritization of care and evacuation in a disaster, what happens to society when conventional standards break down in the face of disaster (i.e. sometimes a Lord of the Flies environment), bureaucratic incompetence, poor planning, lack of perspective and the wrath of the elements. It’s about how all this conspired to create a horrific situation requiring choices no human should ever have to make.
Memorial wasn’t so much a hospital anymore but a shelter that was running out of supplies and needed to be emptied.
- Fink wrote the book in a way that, when I was in the heat of the moment (i.e. Part 1), I had sympathy for both sides and could see both sides’ logic. But, in hindsight (i.e. Part 2, which covered the subsequent investigation), the doctors’ actions seemed callous and wrong. This is probably similar to how the real-life situation felt to many who were involved or following it on the news and I appreciated Fink’s ability to make me feel the complexity of the real-life situation.
- This book is a debate starter. The lack of a clear right answer to what happened at Memorial would make for some fantastic book club conversation.
What I Didn’t Like
- It was overly long and I could’ve done without a few specific tangents in Part 2 (historical background on euthanasia and the entire Epilogue except what happened at NYU hospital during Hurricane Sandy).
A Defining Quote
Pou would later say that the goal in a disaster must be to do “the greatest good for the greatest number of people,” […]. But what does the “greatest good” mean when it comes to medicine? Is it the number of lives saved? Years of life saved? Best “quality” years of life saved? Or something else?
Good for People Who Like…
Investigative journalism, medical nonfiction, disaster scenarios, emotional gut wrenchers, debate starters
Other Books You May Like
Because of its fast paced, how-will-we-survive-what’s-thrown-at-us-next feel:
The Martian by Andy Weir
Because of its focus on how society responds to disaster:
One Second After by William R. Forstchen