Friday, July 19, 2013

A "Must Discuss" Book by Sheri Fink

Ms. Fink happens to be a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who is also an M.D. and holds a PhD from Stanford. She has reported from war zones around the world but her new book, Five Days at Memorial, Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, is set in the war zone that was New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.

This absolutely unputdownable (yes, spell-checker, I know that isn't a real word) non-fiction account of the insurmountable suffering that befell the doctors, nurses, patients, families, and rescue workers who stayed behind at Memorial Hospital in downtown New Orleans after the levies broke, is rife for discussion.

 Ms. Fink divides her narrative into two parts, the first is an in-depth look at what happened during those five days, the second part, deals with the aftermath when the attorney general's office began an investigation into the actions of one doctor and two nurses in the last hours before the final evacuation of the hospital.

You may not all remember reading about this when it happened but Dr. Anna Pou and nurses Lori Budo and Cheri Landry were charged with murder for injecting some of the sickest patients with excessive amounts of morphine and versed, an act that some say mercifully hastened their deaths and put them out of their suffering, but which others called cold-blooded murder.

 No matter where you stand on the right-to-die issue, Ms. Fink injects enough nuance, and the story is so morally complicated, that you'll find yourself questioning your own beliefs more than once. Often the word "triage" is used, think back to old reruns of M.A.S.H. where I probably heard the term for the first time.

In a severe emergency, lack of light, air-conditioning, power to fuel oxygen tanks, 100 degree heat, a city under siege, who should go out first? Some believe it should be the sickest, others say it should be the ones most likely to make a recovery. Two schools of thought battled on the seven floors of the stricken hospital over the five long days, as women and men, using superhuman strength, fueled by little or no food, managed to lift, carry, and shove desperately ill patients down flights of stairs, through holes in a wall, and then up to a helipad where rescue may or may not have been imminent.

As a journalist Sheri Fink has the ferociously difficult obligation to present the facts and try to leave her personal feelings about the situations and the players out of the equation. I have to say that I think she has done an admirable job although every now and then she may have let her guard down, especially when decrying the political theater that surrounded the case. We as readers have no such restrictions. Publication date for this outstanding look at a failure to communicate on a monstrous scale isn't until September but I'll bet it's in your library's catalog now. Place your holds, suggest it for discussion, your customers will thank you

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