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Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital - Sheri Fink Five Days At Memorial is a reconstruction of the time following Hurricane Katrina that survivors spent at the hospital, largely without electricity and with decreasing supplies of food and water. Horrific mismanagement led to a situation so desperate and chaotic that later some doctors and nurses were accused of having euthanized some of their patients. The second half of the book deals with the investigation and trials following that accusation.

The first thing the author did right was pick a captivating, if horrifying, story to tell. This book was intense! Everyone was constantly making tough decisions. Sometimes I wanted to scream I was so frustrated by administrators who were obviously (in hindsight) making very poor decisions. At other times I was deeply moved by people’s compassion. Even the second half, detailing the investigation and trials, was emotionally engaging because of the number of people whose lives were going to be affected by the outcome.

I think the main reason this story had such an impact was because the author did such a great job making people come to life for me. The primary focus of the story was on only a few of the many individuals trapped at Memorial. This made it easier to keep track of who was who and what was going on. However, even characters who were mentioned tangentially were often fleshed out with some small details about their personal life. I was very impressed by the author’s ability to share just enough to make me remember that these “secondary characters” were real people without distracting from her main narrative. Given the emotional impact of the story, the ending felt like a bit of a let down, but I think that’s simply one danger of telling a true story. Not everything always works out in a satisfying, this is the end of the narrative kind of way in real life.

This review first published on Doing Dewey.