Review: Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink


Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink is a true account of – using emails, conversation transcriptions, interviews, newspaper articles, and TV reports from the day leading up to, and the days immediately after – Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August, 2005. The second half of the book covers the ensuing legal events, and has its own impressive set of bibliographic entries. This book is well over 500 pages, and very little space within those pages is wasted.  Want to know what happened that day? Read this book.

The book began with a history lesson of New Orleans, her floods, and her hospitals – specifically the hospital known as “Baptist”, originally called Southern Baptist Hospital, renamed Memorial Medical Center in 1996, now Oschner Baptist Medical Center after it’s Katrina-era owners sold it. Once considered the pinnacle of technologically-advanced medical centers, Baptist (er, Memorial) became a horror story when the levees broke. When power was disrupted, medical staff – most who requested the hurricane shift because hospitals were known to be some of the strongest structures in the city, and because they could bring their families – had to take heroic measures to save the more than 150 patients stranded in the building. Patients were carried up six flights of stairs in order to reach the deteriorating helicopter landing pad, where a helicopter may or may not have been waiting for them. (For everyone’s sake, I will not delve into the response of emergency units, FEMA, National Guard, etc. because we all know it was a chaotic clusterflunk that undeniably resulted in the loss of lives. Suffice it to say that patient and staff evacuation from the hospital was erratic, at best.)

The last third of the book was the aftermath. Not just the city repairing itself, but the legal proceedings based off the belief (of many) that unnecessary euthanasia had been carried out among the sickest patients. That ending lives was considered the last and best way out, instead of waiting for rescuers. Dr. Pou was acquitted of all charges, but the fact remains that death was hurried along in quite a few patients.

Fink concluded that New Orleans’ tragedy eventually helped save lives. The time she devoted to the modern day discussion of triage – assigning a level of urgency among patients – was brief but, for me, the most fascinating part of the book. She reported on hospitals that took to the meeting rooms to discuss their own triage standards for possible future catastrophes. The entire state of Maryland took on the topic as a community, hosting discussions with medical professionals, patients, and laypeople at libraries, community centers, hospitals, nursing homes, etc. The results of those conversations were shocking. Not every parent felt that their children should be saved before an adult. And not every senior wanted to be saved.

Sometimes individual medical choices, like triage choices, are less a question of science than they are of values. In a disaster, triage is about deciding what the goal of dividing resources should be for the larger population – whether maximizing number of lives saved, years of lives saved, quality of life, fairness, social trust, or other factors.

I am glad I read this book, as it gave me a lot to think about. This was more than an expose on Baptist (Memorial) Hospital post-Katrina. This wasn’t finger-pointing reporting. This was detailed, well-researched, and open-minded reporting.

Recommended for:
Fans of investigative journalism will appreciate the vast bibliography Fink composed and utilized in writing this book. And the details are enough for any fiction fan to feel like they are in the stifling rooms.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggars, because it covers the same city during the same hurricane, but with a Syrian man and wrongful imprisonment. So intense and so well-written. (What has happened to the main character since the book was published is even more mind-blowing.)


Wednesday reads: no light reading

What a grab bag this week’s reads are. Zombie-people (kinda?), family relationships, and the true story of the aftermath of one of America’s worst natural disaster catastrophes. No light reading here, folks!

returnedThe Returned by Jason Mott is the story of how individuals and society deal with people returning from the dead – even 50 years after their death, as is the case with young Jacob, who died at age 8 and whose parents are now in their 70s. I’m waiting for it to get going, and I’m 6 CDs in, out of 9…so there is growing concern that the book will be more existential than literal. But check out the TV show trailer…although the storyline is drastically different, it looks awfully good. (The show is slated for Spring 2014.)


& Sons by David Gilbert is the story of fathers, sons, men, and boys, all from the Topping and Dyer families of contemporary New York. Writers, students, professionals, amateurs…men from both families are one or the either, making for a fascinating and descriptive narrative.

Five-Days-at-Memorial-by-Sheri-FinkFive Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink is the product of incredible amounts of research into the goings-on at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans immediately before, during, and after rain and wind from Hurricane Katrina caused the levees to fail. I am a bit daunted – 200 pages in – with all the names and situations, but it is a harrowing tale.

NOLA/ALA, part 2

My conference experience started with a crash and a blister on Friday morning at Libraries Build Communities. Approximately 200 librarians volunteered in libraries and communities through the New Orleans region Friday morning, and I was one of 9 at a house in St. Bernard’s Parish. We, along with a representative from St. Bernard Project, walked into a house that had no insulation or dry wall (pros came in and cleared it out), but was caked in dust, dirt, loose nails, and even a syringe. We removed removed trash/large objects from the interior, loose nails, painted the front exterior, swept, weed-wacked the front lawn, and pulled up plants/weeds and leveled the back yard. In five hours we took a house that had been hit by a hurricane and turned it into a real work in progress. A few pictures:

The first shot was taken after a bit of yard work. The second…so this furniture basically hasn’t been touched since August 2005. We found pictures and letters that put into reality the fact that this family hadn’t lived in their own home in nearly six years. The SBP rep gently reminded us that many families haven’t been able to rebuild for numerous reasons such as contractors stole their money (happened more than anyone knows), insurance money not coming through (6 months before Katrina the Army Corps of Engineers claimed the region was no longer in danger of a flood, so flood insurance was removed from thousands of homeowner policies unbeknowest to the owners), and poverty (for some homeowners, their homes were the only thing they had). So seeing such personal treasures as family photos and love letters was jarring, and reminded us why we were busting our asses on our ‘vacation’.

Friday night the exhibits opened and Katie and I walked away with out a dozen books each (and we were being selective, I swear!). By then our third roommate, librarian and blogger/reviewer Sondy, had joined us.

The Saturday sessions I chose to attend were a bit dull/not as applicable as I suspected they would be, so I experienced the exhibits. That night we went to Desire Cafe for dinner where I had fried green tomatoes! (My mom’s are better…just sayin’.)

Sunday was much better! The YALSA Strategic Planning meeting was a huge success, as it gave me some ideas on what I can do professionally. I’ll blog about this at a later time. Afterwards, I reviewed resumes with some librarians looking for new jobs, got Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler’s newest The Future of Us (read my review here…not good, y’all), and enjoyed another dinner at Acme Oyster House with Katie and four academic librarians from Canada that we met in line! Katie convinced them that the line was worth standing in, and after the meal, they agreed!

Monday was, by far, my most favorite day of the conference. I facilitated a YALSA speed-networking ground where I met some very nice, excited YA librarians as well as the new President of YALSA, Sarah Flowers. After that was the YALSA Membership Meeting and President’s Program. Please read about that experience here on the YALSA blog post I put up yesterday.

Monday evening was the Printz Award Ceremony and reception. Each author was funny and moving in their own way, but my favorite line of the night was winner Paulo Bacigalupi screaming, “I won a fucking Printz Award!” I met him later in the evening; here is a blurry photo of the moment:

The weekend was an absolute dream. I met great people (authors, librarians, YALSA members, strangers in restaurants/on the street, exhibitors, etc.) and feel like it was money well spent. People asked me if my library sponsored my trip and they did not (I’ve been at LCPL for <1 month), but even if they never do, I’ll continue to pay my own way. Conferences such as this do so much for me; knowing that there are others out there who are enthusiastic as I am, who love serving the public, that the money spent is of no matter to me.

It’s not all about libraries, though. I walked away with nearly 50 books (some purchased, but mostly galleys/ARCs). Only some of my finds:

What was YOUR favorite ALA experience? What would you do differently next time?

NOLA/ALA Overview, part 1.

I toured, I tweeted, I learned, I networked, I got autographs, I worked on a Katrina victim’s house…all in a week. ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans was a wonderful learning experience (i.e. I can eat 3,000 calories a day for a week and not have a heart-attack) that has re-energized me for my work in libraries and specifically with young adults.

First, the tourist side. Shane and I landed Tuesday morning and toured my old hometown (Slidell) before doing the obligatory first-night-in-NOLA-Bourboun-Street-tour. To be honest, I was less than impressed. If I never return to Bourbon Street, it will be too soon.
Day two was the Audubon Zoo. In all the zoos I’ve been to (including my personal favorite, the Cleveland Zoo), I have never seen a baby flamingo…until now!! Seriously, how precious is he! He kept stumbling over his big feet, too. I could’ve watched him all day.

That same night Katie arrive and we experienced the corn bread muffins, alligator cheesecake, coconut bread pudding, and locally-brewed Abita Beer. We took the St. Charles Streetcar back to the French Quarter, danced in the rain as we ran to our hotel, and called it a night.

The next day was action-packed with a visit to the National WWII Museum and a ride on the Steamboat Natchez. If you are ever in New Orleans, you must do both. The museum boasts the incredible Tom Hanks-produced and narrated film Beyond All Boundaries which was an overview of the war from the late 1930s to Japan’s surrender. It is 4D and includes fog, music, props, and spot-on narration from famous actors like Gary Sinese and Blythe Danner. To be honest, the 40-minute movie brought me to tears (not like it takes much to make me cry…). The producers left out quite a bit of pertinent information, but I suppose I can forgive them because it’s impossible to cram an entire war into 40 minutes. Also, the museum itself filled in the blanks, so I got all the information, just through two different mediums.

Up next was a 2-hour ride along the Mississippi River on the Steamboat Natchez. It was a history lesson (from the boat we could see the last standing plantation home in New Orleans and we saw where the levees breeched in 2005) and a scenic tour, as we got to see a thunderstorm roll into the city. Afterwards, Shane was accosted by a homeless man claiming he could shine his tennis shoes, which he tried to do with what we *hope* was a squirt of lotion. Shane is still mad. That night we stood in line for about 40 minutes to gain entry to the acclaimed Acme Oyster House. Holy wow are we glad we did, because the char-grilled oysters, boiled crawfish, hush puppies, and pecan cobbler were so worth it! Our esteemed bartender Pamela kept us entertained and satisfied for nearly 2 hours, and we once again had to roll ourselves home.

The next morning Shane left for Virginia and Katie and I kicked-off the library side of our trip.


So you know how things go…you get busy (end of semester/graduation) and you forget about your responsibilities (blogging) and then depressed (because you can’t land a library job), and then don’t read anything about libraries except for job openings and descriptions.

But I’m back on track now. That’s because today I started at Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland. I am the newest adjunct reference librarian, on contract until June 30th (with hopes, of course, to extend that each semester, indefinitely). I am so happy to be where I am. After one day of training I already feel like a part of the camaraderie of the library staff, and cannot wait to get to work on my various responsibilities.

Being a librarian at a university means that I should add the ALA division ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) to my list of ALA division memberships. I totally buy into the importance of joining your professional association and all of its appropriate divisions and associations. Why?? Because where else will you find a large number (approx. 62,000) of equally enthusiastic folks that do your same job? Who else will support your mission, answer your questions, give you feedback, and help you be the best professional you can be? I love ALA and am so proud to be a member.

I am especially excited right now because I will be spending the last week of June in New Orleans, Louisiana. I am stoked!! I lived in Slidell, LA for 2 years, and fondly remember the Audubon Zoo (I met Captain Planet!), the French Quarter, Mardi Gras parades, visiting my dad on the military base, and even the not so good things like a successful operation at Tulane Medical Center, fights with my sister, and unsuccessfully trying out the nickname “Al”, (thankfully that never caught on). Therefore, I could not be more happy about going back. And even better, I’ll be spending an entire week there, the first three days of which will be with my sister’s family and my boyfriend. Amanda and I are so excited to show our men-folk the beautiful place we used to live.

Back to the blog…okay, I’m back! This time with a slightly new slant: university libraries. But no worries, I am still a YALSA member, and still love posting more about my personal self than my professional one. 🙂