Five Days at Memorial

  • by Sheri Fink
  • Narrated by Kirsten Potter
  • 17 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina - and her suspenseful portrayal of the quest for truth and justice
In the tradition of the best writing on medicine, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the listener into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amidst chaos.
After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.
Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the listener into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.
In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters - and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.


Audible Editor Reviews

Editors Select, September 2013 - I’m more of a fiction reader and listener, but on the occasions when I turn to nonfiction it’s to better understand a compelling story. The best narrative nonfiction – like Unbroken and Devil in the White City – remains with you long after the last chapter has ended, and so is the case with my September pick, which reveals the chaotic details, devastating conditions, and overwhelming emotions that emerged during the five days that hundreds of patients, employees, family members, and pets spent stranded in New Orleans’ Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina. It’s hard to listen to the events of those days – but almost as impossible to put the book down as author Sheri Fink, who previously won the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting, raises important questions about end-of-life care and how to be better prepared for major disasters. Frightening, fascinating, and highly recommended. —Diana D., Audible Editor


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Five Days in Hell/Years in Purgatory

Sheri Fink, MD, PhD, published "The Deadly Choices at Memorial" in the New York Times on August 30, 2009. I read it on line, and, when I found an abandoned copy at a Starbucks, I read it again. It was a great article, and I wished for more details - why did the hospitals generators fail? - why didn't the hospital's emergency plan have procedures in place for a catastrophic failure? - why didn't the doctors who administered fatal injections wait for rescue that, in hindsight, was just hours away? That article won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting; and this lengthy book (576 pages on paper) answers those questions, and more.

Fink has the rare gift of understanding how complex systems work and fail, and the ability to explain them in a lively, intriguing narrative that weaves history, culture, engineering, medicine, medical ethics and people and companies together into a compelling story. She doesn't draw conclusions: she gives the conclusions reached by the government; the American Medical Association; the people that survived Memorial and the family members of those who didn't; law enforcement; expert witnesses; criminal attorneys and civil attorneys; and ethicists.

As a reader/listener, I reached my own conclusions about why Memorial failed as a physical building, and how and why Dr. Anna Pou, did what she did - she apparently euthanized patients, and was arrested for second degree murder. A grand jury declined to indict Dr. Pou or the two nurses that helped her, years after Katrina.

Would I have made the same kind of decision in an analogous situation? It's easy to pass moral judgment sitting in my comfortable backyard, well rested, enjoying a Sunday croissant and strong, black coffee. I don't think I would have, especially as to patient Emmett Everett, Sr., but I really don't know.

Fink's epilogue makes a strong recommendation: guidelines need to be in place for medical priorities when medical resources are short, and those decisions need to be made well before natural or man made mass casualty events happen, not in the middle of a catastrophe.

The book was so well narrated, I realized I was up at 1 a.m., after repeatedly setting the Audible sleep timer, listening. I had to switch to a book I'd already heard so I could sleep.

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- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

Ravaged by Storm -- Shattered by Systems

Truly unforgettable piece of investigative journalism at its best; the emotions in the reviews attest to the haunting staying power of the horrific events being recounted. Meticulously researched and presented in a way that has you feel the impending storm approaching with each page, compounded by the prescience of tragedy. Fink gives a brief explanation of the geography and history of the land and the levees, and some insight as to the worse case scenario prior to the storm. The land so dependent on the infrastructure of the system -- the citizens also dependent on the systems. What follows is a domino effect-like breakdown of those systems that had provided such a false sense of security, from the personal morals and responsibilities, to the corporate policies, to the government. Fink shows a top-rate journalist's ability to accurately report the events unattached to opinion, having each person responsible for their actions without labeling them good guy/bad guy; and there are times, in certain situations that you flip back and forth with your own judgements, but always keep the weight of decision in your own mind.

The account does get long as it goes over the legal process and how it was perceived by the media, but the details helped -- like a necessary stretch after a long hard workout, stress relief; and it is an interesting look at the machinations of the legal system and corporate power. Still, a fact to consider for some readers. Kristen Potter gives a flawless and pragmatic performance, always concise and neutral, piling onto the reader the responsibility of their own conclusion. I remembered a disaster preparedness drill we went through at our hospital to pass the JCAHO guidelines... The drill-coordinator gave us the ol' *who would you throw out of the boat if the boat was going to sink* dilemma. The supervisors in the boats started rationalizing whom and why, as the drill-coordinator listened straight faced. When everyone had decided on whom to toss overboard to lighten their boat, the coordinator said, "but, you have to get everyone safely to shore." We, the Hospital Administrative Directors, had not counted on that possibility.

I found the book fascinating and heartbreaking. One of the few times I have felt truly like I was walking in the shoes of another, from an obese paralyzed black man, to an old beloved mother, to a frantic nurse with children at home, to a doctor juggling whom to put on the rescue helicopter, to a daughter hundreds of miles away. I certainly have made some moral adjustments. Excellent, informative, very haunting.

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- Mel

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-10-2013
  • Publisher: Random House Audio