Five Days at Memorial is the story of a hospital ̶ its staff and patients ̶ that weathered Hurricane Katrina with no power and rising floodwaters. While a portion of those who were ill were evacuated, a number remained. Early on, many who had “do not resuscitate” orders, as well as some others whose circumstances were most dire, were deprioritized in terms of the evacuation. Days after the storm, with no electricity to power the hospital and its life saving machinery, and the heat oppressive and unrelenting, many patients had died. With those that hung on (if barely), the doctors and nurses who were finally being rescued had a decision to make about the fate of these people, a number of them unconscious hospice patients. They chose a lethal drug cocktail over than leaving them to starve / overheat (or possibly survive).
I probably could have done a bit more research going into starting this. But, without having done that background work, I thought I was starting in on a book that talked about the heroic efforts that doctors went through to save patients (it did). I expected it to be more medical though, more about the lengths they went to survive, the personalities present in the hospital. No doubt, this was definitely a component of the book. However, this book is about euthanasia. It's focused on the ethics of what occurred in Memorial hospital during that time and the court cases and lawsuits that followed.
In truth, I wanted more of what comprised the first 150 pages of the book (what occurred in the hospital during and immediately following the storm), and a whole lot less (or maybe none) of what made up the remaining 350 pages (ethical discussions, history of euthanasia, lawsuits and court cases). Apart from the subject matter being not quite up my alley, I was extremely frustrated with the writing style. I found it a bit unfocused and if I was the editor I would have made hasty work eliminating about 200 pages.
There are no doubt numerous untold and harrowing tales out of New Orleans from the wreckage that Hurricane Katrina left in its wake, but all in all, I simply did not enjoy this one. I actually kept remembering myself back in a high school ethics class, understanding the complexity of the topic, wishing there were simpler solutions, but wanting just to push the entire debate as far as possible from my mind.