Five Days at Memorial
When Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005 thousands of people faced some of the worst disaster conditions ever experienced in the United States. Hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities were caught completely off guard. In her Pulizer winning account, Sheri Fink, describes the conditions at one of the most famous hospitals in New Orleans, Memorial (AKA Baptist). As a result of lack of power, a woeful disaster plan, loss of communication, and no clear command structure, the conditions in the hospital quickly degenerated into a kind of Wild West, survival of the fittest, every man for himself social situation. In the midst of the terror, over five days, rumors surfaced that some doctors and nurses decided to euthanize critically ill, DNR patients, and even one relatively healthy, but morbidly obese patient, rather than attempt to evacuate them.
After the floodwaters receded, the NO District Attorney began an investigation into the allegations that patients were systematically euthanized with massive doses of narcotics and benzodiazepines. What followed was an investigation into the actions of doctors and nurses that polarized the community and the nation and horrified a medical establishment that was not prepared for the accusations and moral and ethical dilemmas. The second half of the book covers the case as it was prosecuted by investigators and in the press. The stages of the investigation, as told, are fascinating. What was discovered at the hospital after the disaster and during cleanup will shock most readers.
I do wish that more was said about the rare hospital that managed to weather the storm without losing an inordinate number of patients, as it was only used as a contrast example with a brief description. I guess that is not what the book was about, but it would have been nice to see that survival with dignity was possible given the right leadership and attitude.
This true story was eye opening and riveting. For much of the first half of the book I felt like I was at the ravaged hospital and in the second half I thought I was reading a medical/legal thriller. It is all the more compelling because it really happened. Reading this book will cure you of any, “It can’t happen here,” thinking.