Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink


Title: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital

Author: Sheri Fink

Published: Atlantic Books April 2014

Status: Read from May 02 to 04, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, an investigative piece written by Sheri Fink, is a vivid portrait of tragedy that occurred in New Orleans when it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The first half of the narrative details the five days in which Memorial was battered by Hurricane Katrina and then isolated by the flood waters that destroyed much of the city. It is a gripping, day by day, often hour by hour, account Fink has created from official reports and interviews with the staff, patients and others trapped in the city hospital. Fink relates the harrowing circumstances that developed in Memorial as resources dwindled and services failed, and the thoughts, experiences and emotions of those fearing they may not survive. However this moving and powerful narrative leads to the real focus of Five Days at Memorial – the alleged actions of some of the medical staff trapped at the hospital, most notably Dr Anna Pou, accused of euthanising as many as a dozen patients, and possibly more, during the emergency.

The second half of the book recounts the legal aftermath of those allegations which resulted in Pou and two nurses being arrested for multiple accounts of second degree murder. It describes the investigation into the deaths by the the attorney general, the coroner and other medical and legal experts and raises issues related to the ethics of disaster management in a medical setting. This section is less emotive and therefore less gripping, but still thought provoking and very readable.

Sheri Fink was uniquely placed to write this book as a doctor with experience working in disaster and war zones, and extensive journalistic experience, including authoring “War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival” in 2003. Clearly Fink engaged in exhaustive research into the the events, and their aftermath, at Memorial, drawing on multiple resources, resulting in a detailed perspective of the tragedy. I don’t think it is quite true that the account is written without bias though. It seems to me, by both her choice of language and some of the details she chose to focus on, that Fink formed a opinion about the events that took place inside Memorial, and her assessment seeped into the narrative.

I found Five Days at Memorial to be an engrossing, intriguing and poignant read. It is a story that needed to be told and I desperately hope that governments and bureaucrats worldwide have learned from the woeful lack of preparedness, planning, communication and resources exhibited during this disaster as a whole, and from the specific events that occurred at Memorial.

Five Days at Memorial is Available to Purchase from

Allen & Unwin I boomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon Auvia Booko

BookDepository I Amazon US


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ezpat1981
    May 09, 2014 @ 16:58:48

    Sounds really interesting



  2. herschelian
    May 25, 2014 @ 20:05:20

    I would never have heard of this book if you hadn’t reviewed it – so thanks for the heads up. I downloaded it onto my Kindle and have been reading with horrified fascination.
    Whilst the second half of the book had sections that made me want to skip to the end as it seemed very repetative, I valiantly ploughed on.
    People often say ‘this was a thought provoking book’ and in the case of ‘Five Days at Memorial’ it is absolutely true. When I put it down I had so many questions buzzing through my head. I skype-called a close girlfriend in the uk who is a London doctor to ask her what guidance they are given on triage in a terrible emergency. I pondered how I would feel about it if it were me or one of my loved-ones who were close to death and in that senario.

    With medical science advancing all the time, we, as societies, need to have some serious dialogue about what we think is ethically acceptable, and when, and even more importantly, who will make those decisions.
    There is a little rhyme which kept popping into my mind as I was reading –

    “Thou shalt not kill,
    But should not strive,
    Officiously to keep alive.”



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      May 26, 2014 @ 11:04:18

      Thanks for sharing your response to this book, I agree it raises some really important questions for both society and individuals as you point out. That rhyme sort of sums up my own feelings about end of life care in normal circumstances, though of course the events in Memorial were anything but.



  3. Trackback: Around the World in 12 Books Challenge – May Round-up | Giraffe Days

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