First, Do No Harm
A harrowing reconstruction of triage gone wrong at a post-Katrina medical facility
Five Days at Memorial:
Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
by Sheri Fink
$27.00 List Price
At one point in Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink's elaborately researched chronicle of life, death, and the choices in between at a New Orleans hospital immediately following Hurricane Katrina, hospital staffers begin, inevitably, to imagine how the made-for-TV movie of their ordeal would be cast. A nurse named Budo, "dark-haired with a heart-shaped face and thick eyebrows, said she wanted Demi Moore to play her. Her longtime colleague on the night shift, Cheri Landry, short and stout, with hooded eyes, arched brows, and an air of wisdom, would be portrayed by Kathy Bates."
As things turned out, though, both women would play themselves. Memorial Medical Center's TV star turn would come via the attentions of Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes, and Nancy Grace, who with eyes aglitter would speculate on "an angel of death" said to have "stalked" Memorial's halls, using lethal doses of morphine and other drugs to shoot up patients deemed too sick to evacuate. There'd be fiction, too: an episode of Boston Legal that would take the hospital's side—if, that is, the case for euthanasia committed and then denied can be called a side. There has not, to my knowledge, been a movie; and while I wish this devastating book a wide readership, I hope Fink never lets it be optioned. Her great accomplishment lies in the ways in which her relentless account resists narrative. There is no overriding arc to the story here—only dozens of little boats scattering.
Seen through a telescope, what happens is this: On the eve of Katrina, local residents, hospital staff and their families, and the patients