Looking Back at a Hospital Devastated by Hurricane Katrina

In 2013, Sherwin B. Nuland wrote for the Book Review about Sheri Fink’s “Five Days at Memorial,” which depicted the crisis at a New Orleans hospital consumed by Hurricane Katrina.

“The juror was convinced — and, she believed, all of her fellow jurors were too — that a crime had occurred on that fifth day at Memorial.” So concludes Sheri Fink’s harrowing and minutely detailed description of the hellish events that took place at a New Orleans hospital during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath in late August and early September 2005. The members of the special grand jury were in agreement that the state of Louisiana should not indict Dr. Anna Pou for the murder of four patients during the disaster. Why then, did they nevertheless continue to believe that a “crime had occurred”?

Working in these tumultuous surroundings day after day, without electricity and often in the dark, sleep-deprived doctors and nurses labored determinedly and often in vain to help the patients entrusted to them, amid their own concern for family members at home and the danger to their possessions posed by the inundating waters. Decisions were made and actions taken with utmost haste and uncertainty, and no doubt sometimes with the poor judgment characteristic of the most extreme forms of stress. When many of the citizens of New Orleans later called the members of the hospital’s staff, including Dr. Pou, heroic in their attention to duty, there was good reason.

It is in the description of these events that Fink, a Stanford-educated physician and a health and science writer, is at her best. Her gripping narrative captures not only the facts of the situation, but the thoughts of her witnesses and the feverishly unfolding disorder, confusion and tragedy.

Read the rest of the review.

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