Home » Book Biz » BOOK BIZ — Heartbreak and heroics inside a flooded hospital

BOOK BIZ — Heartbreak and heroics inside a flooded hospital

» Five Days at Memorial By Sheri Fink   Published by Crown Publishers       $27.00 hardback

» Five Days at Memorial
By Sheri Fink
Published by Crown Publishers
$27.00 hardback

Did she or didn’t she? That’s the big question in Sheri Fink’s much-lauded work of nonfiction, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. The “Memorial” in the title is the now renamed Ochsner Baptist, located in New Orleans.

Nearly ten years ago, after the levees failed following Hurricane Katrina, Baptist, like much of the city, began flooding. Fink spends close to 500 pages telling the stories of those who were there: patients, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and a great number of family members (and pets) who’d come to ride the storm out, as they’d done so many times before.

After Katrina delivered a glancing blow instead of a direct hit, many in the hospital mistakenly thought the worst was over. However, conditions deteriorated rapidly. Power went out, cutting air-conditioning, and not long after, the hospital’s three generators stopped working as the floodwaters rose, leaving them with no power whatsoever.

For many critically ill patients dependent on high-tech devices, the situation became serious. Brave nurses and doctors worked to keep everyone alive and as comfortable as possible – an unimaginable task when you consider the heat and humidity, the stress and lack of sleep, the fear and worry they all faced. Rescue was not easy, and while they did get many patients out safely (including all the premature babies), moving the sickest was a challenge. Indeed, doctors decided to evacuate the least sick and most able-bodied first, leaving the most vulnerable patients for later.

Many of these patients, though, would never leave, and would die at the hospital; 45 in all, the most of any of the New Orleans hospitals following the storm. How, and why, and would could have been done differently, are the questions that remain. Fink tries to answer them.

The book focuses on several doctors who were there, but the central figure is Dr. Anna Maria Pou, a native New Orleanian whose surgical specialty is head and neck cancer. Not long after the waters receded, allegations surfaced that some of the patients had been euthanized, with Dr. Pou and two nurses in the crosshairs. They vigorously denied any wrongdoing, saying they only tried to make patients comfortable. Dr. Pou was eventually charged with second-degree murder, but a grand jury refused to indict her.

The truth is, we can’t know what really happened. Despite Fink’s precise reporting, she wasn’t there and neither were we. This book’s still worth reading, though, to appreciate the heroics of the staff who worked tirelessly in unfathomable conditions to help the patients who did survive.

— LouAnn Lofton, mbj@msbusiness.com


… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.

If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.

Click for more info

About Contributing Columnist