Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster the scope of which hopefully most of us will never experience. In Five Days at Memorial, by Sheri Fink, readers get a front row view of not only what it was like to live in New Orleans at that time, but specifically what it was like to be on the front lines working at one of its hospitals. The book provides a brief historical perspective of the hospital and begins chronicling events just before Hurricane Katrina made landfall through the period when Memorial Hospital was finished being evacuated, six days later.

The story is told from first person accounts and records of the event and focuses on the aftermath, particularly for a doctor and two nurses who were ultimately arrested for principal to second-degree murder (p. 333) resulting from decisions and actions related to patient care during the course of the event. A charge of ‘principal’ related to murder is against someone who assisted with the act even though he or she did not, in this case, actually inject the patient.

The book is divided into two main sections, "Deadly Choices," which describes the situation, communications and deterioration of conditions day by day, and "Reckoning," which describes the investigations and outcomes related to the charges. While the book is a thought-provoking read for anyone thinking about healthcare during a disaster, it offers clinicians with anecdotal realities related to preparedness at institutional and governmental levels and what that may mean for individuals making decisions at the point of care.

Although nearly 500 pages long and containing a huge cast of characters, Five Days at Memorial provides an opportunity to think about preparedness and bioethics in the context of a very real experience for some colleagues in New Orleans. At a time when a “typical day at work” can very quickly turn into an extraordinary one, in which preparedness can mean the difference between life and death for some patients, this book is worth the investment of time — for your patients and yourself.

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