Five Days at Memorial

Life and Death in A Storm-ravaged Hospital

Fink, Sheri

(Book - 2013)
Average Rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Five Days at Memorial
Random House, Inc.

One of the New York Times’s Best Ten Books of the Year

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

Winner of the 2014 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Ridenhour Book Prize, the 2014 American Medical Writers Association Medical Book Award (Public/Healthcare Consumers), a 2014 Science in Society Journalism Award, and the SIBA 2014 Book Award for Nonfiction

An ALA Notable Book, finalist for the NYPL 2014 Helen Bernstein Award, and shortlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Award and the ALA Andrew Carnegie Medal

An NPR “Great Reads” Book, a Chicago Tribune Best Book, a Seattle TimesBest Book, a Time Magazine Best Book, Entertainment Weekly’s #1 Nonfiction Book, aChristian Science Monitor Best Book, and a Kansas City Star Best Book

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 investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid 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 reader 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.

Baker & Taylor
A Pulitzer Prize-winning doctor, reporter and author of War Hospital reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina destroyed its generators to reveal how caregivers were forced to make life-and-death decisions without essential resources, an experience that raised key issues about practitioner responsibilities and end-of-life care.

& Taylor

Reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center after Hurricane Katrina destroyed its generators to reveal how caregivers were forced to make life-and-death decisions without essential resources.

Publisher: New York :, Crown Publishers,, [2013]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780307718969
Branch Call Number: 362.1109 F
Characteristics: xviii, 558 pages : map ; 25 cm


From Library Staff

Winner NBCC Award for general nonfiction.

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Jul 26, 2014
  • elenbook rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Read July 2014
Detailed, suspenseful

Jul 18, 2014

A patron review from the Adult Summer Game: "This is an intriguing investigative review of the events following Katrina at a city hospital in New Orleans. The first part of the book is a chronology of events as experienced by the health care workers, and the second half is an objective review of circumstances as seen by investigators. At it's heart is a question that is always timely: how do we provide the best care to the sickest people?"

May 28, 2014
  • ownedbydoxies rated this: 4 stars out of 5.

Details the drama unfolding in a very unprepared (due mostly to costs and inaction) hospital during and after Katrina. Lots of incredible, hard-to-believe details about the lives of those trapped during the aftermath of the storm.

Mar 12, 2014

I'm really glad to have read this. I would like to talk to every health professional who cares for me about it -- especially when I'm (eventually) getting long-term-care! I'd like every health pro in my city to have read it should a disaster occur in my community. It made me rethink and want to redo my own power-of-attorney for health care documents. It also made me more willing to cut others some slack should they ever be faced with what the pro's at that hospital faced. I doubt I'd do any better under such pressure than they did.

Feb 13, 2014

Despite the research that went into this book, I found it confused and unfocused. The author shifted constantly from supportive to accusatory, quoted conversations in the second section she had made no reference to in the chronological account of what went on inside Memorial, told us repeatedly what the personal reactions of various players was. Really, is it relevant that an aged coroner had his feelings hurt when the grand jury failed to return an indictment? Is that what justice is about? The crux of this disaster is the US is cursed with a for-profit system of so-called health care. Fink makes it clear that many decisions not to intervene were based on cost considerations. When I worked at Mount Sinai in Toronto, the senior execs visited Poland. Our VP took a look around and said, "if I get a hangnail, medivac me back to Canada." I feel the same way about the US, and this book does make clear that profit comes before patient care.

Jan 20, 2014
  • Jane60201 rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

This very long book seemed sort of tedious in the first two hundred pages as everything was described in exhaustive detail. It picked up when the legal angles came into play and the points of view of the various parties were analyzed. The best part was the end where more recent disasters were analyzed and the concept of triage more thoroughly explored. There is obviously a lot to be done by all parties to prepare more effectively for a disaster so triage decisions do not have to be made so harshly.

P.S. I think I have to blame Tenet for most of the debacle. They are a really rotten hospital chain in my opinion.

Dec 23, 2013
  • ksoles rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

With sophistication, meticulous detail and apparent effortlessness, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Sheri Fink has written a harrowing account of the events that unfolded at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Considering the calamitous, lethal circumstances, the tireless staff at Memorial certainly did a remarkable job of saving many lives in the wake of a horrendous storm. But the hospital's policies and procedures sparked national controversy over class and race discrimination in medicine, end-of-life care, medical rationing and euthanasia. "Five Days at Memorial" provides stunningly framed vignettes of specific events as well as sharp profiles of many of the key characters. Fink gives consideration to explosive issues in such a manner that readers can fully fashion their own opinions.

A blend of drama and philosophy, the book poses difficult questions for the medical field: when do normal standards no longer apply? what if doing something seems right but doesn’t feel right? In the ensuing investigation of one doctor, Fink circles all the players, successfully giving much-needed perspective to their views. Ultimately, the usual suspects become the greatest villains: nature, for creating Katrina in the first place, Memorial owner Tenet Healthcare, for failing to act, and government, for its incompetence that led to dozens of deaths.

Nov 06, 2013
  • MrFrida rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

A very detailed presentation of what happened at the Memorial Medical Center with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. The ordeal presented many dilemmas to the staff involved and provides a forum to address critical issues especially advance emergency preparation for natural disasters. A deeply thought provoking and wrenching tale!

Oct 17, 2013
  • axeman rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

This is an inside look at what happened in the hospital during the disaster of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. This book was very well pull together.It looks at the practical and moral dilemas that take place during a crisis and offers incredible insight.

Aug 22, 2013
  • acornsandnuts rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

An engrossing, heartbreaking, and thoughtful look at what may have happened at Memorial Medical Center during Hurricane Katrina, and in the aftermath of the storm and the subsequent legal proceedings. Fink has written a tremendous example of the finest non-fiction; the first part, covering the five days during the storm and the flooding, is particularly chilling -- you will have goosebumps, and tears, reading about the struggles of everyone, from staff to patients and families of patients.


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