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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Five Days At Memorial

American journalist Sheri Fink's book describes the true and shocking events that took place at Memorial Medical Center over five days in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005. It was written in 2013 further to a Pulitzer Prize-winning article written by Fink and published in The New York Times Magazine in 2009. Fink details the events following the disaster and discusses the legal, political and ethical dilemmas surrounding the euthanization of patients. Staff, patients (many of them gravely ill), relatives and pets were trapped by rising floodwaters. The loss of power left the building stifling hot, without functioning toilets, elevators and essential medical equipment like ventilators. The environment inside was horrific and the area outside the hospital had erupted into violence and looting.
Disaster preparedness prior to the storm had been haphazard and was designed to cope with acts of terrorism rather than a hurricane which was more likely to occur in New Orleans. No one seemed in charge, communication with the outside world was non-existent. Patients who were picked up early on were dropped at a highway intersection to await ambulances that never arrived.
When a team arrived at Memorial on Sept. 11, 2005 they recovered 45 bodies most of whom had died on September 2 and post mortem examination showed large amounts of morphine and midazolam, a strong sedative in the tissues of some of the dead. Dr Anna Pou and two nurses, Cheri Landry and Lori Budo, were accused of killing a number of very ill patients on the fifth day just as helicopters finally arrived to evacuate those remaining. The nurses were compelled to testify after the DA decided not to prosecute them. In 2007, a grand jury refused to indict Pou on any of the charges brought against her.
The first half of the book gives an account of the events as they were happening and overall it seemed unbiased and was very readable. My heart went out to the staff who struggled on heroically. The second half of the book focuses on the investigation into the deaths at Memorial and Fink makes it plain that she feels crimes have been committed and Dr. Pou should have been indicted by the grand jury. It is harder for the layperson to wade through. 
I have read that Dr. Pou is of the opinion that Sheri Fink used uncorroborated statements and facts presented out of context to convince readers that medical staff euthanized patients at Memorial. Public opinion supported Dr. Pou and in the end I also sympathized with her actions. I blame the corporations and the various levels of government that hung these patients out to dry.
I heard Fink interviewed and had wanted to read the book for some time. I was prepared for a long and difficult read and that's exactly what I got. It's clear that the author put years into researching this book and all the detail was overwhelming at times. It was an absolutely engrossing read and as soon as I finished reading it I found myself wanting to learn more and to put faces to the key characters so I watched some TV interviews and googled other sources before I was finally ready to let the story go. One point Fink made is that lessons were not learned from the Katrina disaster and that many similar scenarios were played out years later in New York during Hurricane Sandy. That is tragic.

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