Sunday, July 28, 2013

Five Days is An Eternity

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged HospitalFive Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley, I received a temporary ebook of this title. On to the review.
Five days is a long time. Five days in a hurricane and its aftermath is an eternity. I'm not sure how many people will stay the course through the 400+ epages and 500+ paper pages to the end.

Sheri Fink attempts to shine a spotlight into those dark days at Memorial Hospital during Katrina and its aftermath--but the information is overwhelming, the shadows obscuring, and there are no heroes to celebrate or villains to excoriate at the end. Not to say that Fink does not give all medical and emergency workers their due as heroes--but there is not a single person to rally the story around--and the probable villains are too big (government unpreparedness, corporate greed, and the usual human cluster-f*** in emergencies).

I have an interest in bioethics, so that's what kept me reading. I think Fink makes it clear what happened to the patients at Memorial who lost their lives due to injections of morphine. I think she also makes it clear, without meaning to, that disasters of this scope create insanity. Do they create criminality? I don't think it's at all crystal, beyond the shadow of doubt, clear why it happened. Is there a difference between people who shoot guns at rescue boats and people who end up making very bad decisions that cause other people to die? Is it ok to compare disasters to war because that's the only other thing we know where people die in such quantities, amidst physical, emotional, mental and spiritual stress?

It's an important book, these are important questions to raise. I wish it had been possible to pare down the pages, because this does not have the sheer storytelling power of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks that pushed it onto the bestseller list for such a lengthy span. This is a book that asks the questions, that should spark a national debate--but as the background history of disaster preparedness in New Orleans illustrates, humans don't often give these questions the discussion, decision-making, and deeds that follow through.

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