Five Days At Memorial Summary & Study Guide

Sheri Fink

Five Days At Memorial

  • 45-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 9 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer with degrees in philosophy and economics
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Five Days At Memorial Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 45-page guide for “Five Days At Memorial” by Sheri Fink includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 9 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Failure of Planning and Life-and-Death Decisions.

Plot Summary

Published in 2013, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital is a work of nonfiction by American journalist Sheri Fink. The book, which takes place in August 2005, describes the struggle of staff and patients to survive when trapped in New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Lacking critical resources, the doctors make a drastic decision that will cause many patients to die via euthanasia. Five Days at Memorial is written in a straightforward journalistic style that is densely detailed with eyewitness testimony. The book provides extensive background on many of the patients, their family members, hospital staffers, public officials, and others important to the story. The book also contains over 60 pages of notes along with a photo insert section of 30 images. 

Five Days at Memorial is a bestseller and winner of several literary awards. Author and physician Sheri Fink has won two Pulitzer Prizes: the first is for the news article on which Five Days is based, first published in The New York Times in 2009; the second she shares with a team that reported on the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The first three chapters provide background on the Memorial Medical Center of New Orleans and describe the harrowing wait there as Hurricane Katrina approaches in late August 2005. Memorial hospital becomes a shelter for patients, staff, their relatives, and a few local residents who trust the huge building to protect them. A LifeCare medical facility transfers many of its patients to Memorial hospital to ride out the storm. Katrina hurls itself against the hospital, shattering windows; city power and water fail, and the hospital must rely on electrical generators. Elevators and air conditioners no longer operate; the building’s temperature begins to rise in the summer heat.

In Chapters 4-7, floodwaters pour into the basement and damage important equipment, which causes backup generators to fail. Critical-care machinery no longer can function, indoor temperatures and humidity rise to dangerous levels, and the seriously ill lie unprotected, their condition worsening by the hour.

In fits and starts, rescuers arrive to evacuate some of the most fragile patients along with a few staffers and their relatives. Communication with the outside world is spotty, and messages are sometimes garbled or misinterpreted. Mistakes, confusion, and bumbling affect both hospital staff and emergency rescue organizations. Memorial’s corporate parent, Tenet Healthcare, responds in a hesitant and disorganized manner that makes the situation worse until the corporation finally manages a coherent response. That help, however, may have come too late.

No longer able to care for the most seriously ill patients, and skeptical that those patients can survive the much-delayed evacuation, a group of doctors agree on a plan to put the patients out of their misery. Dr. Anna Pou and a few others agree to take responsibility, injecting a dozen critical patients with morphine and sedatives. Within hours, all these patients are dead.

Chapter 8 follows government investigators Butch Schafer and Virginia Rider as they look into reports of mass deaths at Memorial hospital. Witnesses are reluctant to point fingers, but they do describe suspicious behavior on the critical-care floors. Experts pore over tissue samples and other evidence and conclude that homicides have been committed.

Chapter 9 reports on the arrest of Dr. Pou and two nurses, the public outcry that follows, and a grand jury unsure about charging a doctor who has become a beloved hero to the people of New Orleans. The jury refuses to indict Dr. Pou.

The Epilogue discusses the controversy that has swirled around the topic of euthanasia since Katrina, and it notes the lack of progress made by hospitals and emergency responders in disaster preparedness.

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