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Book Review: FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL by Sheri Fink

In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans with a ferocity not seen before. Staff, patients, and families hunkered down at Memorial Medical Center to ride the storm out, not knowing that they were about to live through the most hellish five days of their lives. When the flood waters finally receded, the patient death toll was in double digits, higher than any other medical facility in New Orleans. Soon after, allegations began to emerge that some of those patients were "euthanized" by medical staff as conditions in the flooded hospital worsened. What followed was a year long investigation into what really happened during those five days at Memorial.


In FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL, Sheri Fink describes the chaotic conditions within the hospital as the flood waters rose, and the facility lost power. She gives the reader an in-depth introduction to, not only the key medical staff, but also the patients as well. Fink draws on hundreds of hours in interviews with witnesses and thousands of pages of investigation documentation to build a narrative of what actually occurred over those five days.

The story itself is horrifying, yet compelling at the same time. The level of detail is impressive and one is left with a sense of how traumatic the situation must have been for anyone living through those five days. In her narrative, Fink presents the facts as clearly as possible, but doesn't cast judgment or aspersions on those involved. Instead, she leaves the readers to come to their own conclusions as to whether the medical staff at Memorial got away with murder.

Fink, a medical doctor and award-winning journalist for the New York Times, raises serious ethical questions about disaster healthcare. How do medical professionals ration limited healthcare resources in times of disaster? What parameters determine who gets care and who doesn't? When can a doctor withhold care from a critically ill patient? Does a doctor have the right to medicate a patient with the intention of helping them die? FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL can be emotionally hard to read, but it is one of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time. Well worth the read.


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