Murky Waters

Since watching it all unfold live on television, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath has fascinated me. There’s so many stories, big and small, of corruption and deceit, of human kindness and perseverance, cover-ups and intrigue, there’s no shortage of compelling stories. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital expands on Sherri Fink’s Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles reconstructing the harrowing days at the hospital during the hurricane and subsequent flooding and the allegations of doctors euthanizing patients. 

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Fink does a great job of introducing the complex cast of doctors, outlining their various disciplines, administrators and even patients who stayed at the hospital throughout the storm succinctly and without getting too bogged down. It’s ironic, the hospital had withstood so many powerful hurricanes in the past it was thought of as a safe refuge. The story is gripping, and is something of a page turner even though sometimes the book advances time hour by hour. By recreating so much of the mundane, administration staff meetings and the like, Fink creates a sense of dread and tension that lasts throughout the Katrina portion of the book. 

Five Days offers a sympathetic view of what the doctors at Memorial went through, struggling in unprecedented conditions while short staffed to care for patients who were too sick to evacuate. With a background in medicine herself, Fink is able to expertly guide readers through tricky diagnoses on the fly, and makeshift treatment, as well as the hardship doctors faced while trying to objectively diagnose patients in a triage situation. 

Tragically, as with seemingly so many Katrina survival stories, it was a breakdown in communications that delayed much needed rescue efforts. The combination of government rescue efforts and the private hospital owners couldn’t communicate effectively, with each thinking the other group was going to mount a rescue operation to evacuate both patients and doctors. 

Five Days at Memorial serves as an amazing story of human perseverance, with people coming together under extreme circumstances and doing the best they could to save as many patients as possible. More recently, Fink was part of the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times team providing frontline coverage of the Ebola outbreak last year

Derek Smith

Derek is currently enrolled in Algonquin College’s Professional Writing program, is an avid hat-wearer and a voracious reader.