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Day: September 9, 2013

“Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” by Sheri Fink


Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” by Sheri Fink

c.2013, Crown
$27.00 / $32.00 Canada
558 pages



You know exactly what you’d do.

You’re prepared with a drill, if the house catches fire. In case of gunfire, you’ve got a plan in mind. You’ve watched TV coverage of crimes, disasters, and floods enough to have envisioned how you’d react to each of those.

You know what you’d do in a crisis – or do you?  Could you ignore your inner voice and do something wrongly right?  That’s what allegedly happens in the new book “Five Days at Memorial” by Sheri Fink: one of our country’s worst disasters may’ve led to one of medicine’s most questionable acts.

When Southern Baptist Hospital opened in New Orleans in 1926, its founders hoped it would be “the greatest hospital in all the Southland.” Indeed, it had the sturdiest of buildings: when Hurricane Betsy hit in 1965, the campus barely blinked.

There was no reason, therefore, to believe that the hospital (renamed Memorial Medical Center the mid-1990s) couldn’t withstand Hurricane Katrina.

As Katrina approached land on August 28, 2005, there were as many as 2,000 people at Memorial, including staff and families, 183 Memorial patients, and 55 patients belonging to LifeCare, a “hospital within a hospital” that rented facilities at Memorial. There were also hundreds of staff-owned pets inside, for safety’s sake.

At first, the atmosphere was light-hearted. It was obvious by the “little shimmy shake” of the floor-to-ceiling windows and the devastation outside that the storm was dangerous, but staff was optimistic.

And then the levee broke. Water poured into the building, the hospital’s generators became waterlogged, air conditioning failed, and the temperature skyrocketed inside. Plumbing shut down, and fetid odors wafted through each floor. Evacuations were denied (or sporadic), whispers of “martial law” circulated, and optimism waned as the sickest patients became dehydrated, overheated, delirious. Nurses scrambled to keep people alive in conditions that deteriorated almost by the minute.

When it became obvious that pets mightn’t be evacuated, some staff tearfully requested that beloved companions be euthanized. A few nurses wondered if they would ever leave Memorial alive.

And then someone asked a quiet question: “Why should we treat the dogs better than we treat the people?”

Inflammatory?  You bet. And the subject of a months-long, post-Katrina investigation, all of which author and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sheri Fink details in this huge, totally absorbing book.

“Five Days at Memorial” begins with tip-of-a-shark-fin anxiety and quickly descends into chaos, which perfectly displays a mere taste of what happened to the survivors you’ll meet here.

That’s the first half of this book, before Fink’s story turns into something conversation-worthy, something that (admit it) everyone’s reluctantly thought about. From there, and during the legalities that Fink recounts, readers have a front-seat view of finger-pointing, tracks-covering and fact-finding that also became policy-changing.

Once you start it, it’s hard to let go of a book like this because the memory of what happened is still awfully fresh. Like the events surrounding that week, eight years ago, “Five Days at Memorial” can’t be forgotten – so reading it is exactly what you should do.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.

Doing a solid job of helping

Rick Jeffery applies mortar to bricks at Keizer Christian Church last week. Jeffery, owner of Rick’s Brick Repair, is donating his time to work on the project. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)
Rick Jeffery applies mortar to bricks at Keizer Christian Church last week. Jeffery, owner of Rick’s Brick Repair, is donating his time to work on the project. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

The way Rick Jeffery sees it, he’s been blessed by helping others.

Jeffery, owner of Rick’s Brick Repair, has offered to volunteer his time working on bricks in need of repair at Keizer Community Church, located at 380 Churchdale Avenue N. Members of the church gratefully accepted the offer and work began last week.

“For a church, you can’t go wrong doing stuff,” Jeffery said. “I do a lot of volunteer work on churches. You can’t go wrong when helping a church.”

Don Oman said the church dates back to the 1940s and has been in need of repair for a while, especially around the brickwork.

“The old grout is cracked and water was leaking in,” Oman said. “I was driving around one day and I saw this sign for brick repair. I stopped in and saw Rick. He said, ‘If you chip things out and pay for the new material, I will grout and put it in free of charge.’ I was shocked, in this day and time, someone would donate their time like that.”

Two weeks ago Oman pressure washed the church for nearly six hours, then did the same thing the following day. Jeffery and others started on the brick work last week and are expected to finish next week.


Of course, there was a bump along the way.

“We’re doing all the bricks on these two walls,” Oman said, motioning to walls on the west side of the building. “These bricks have not been made since 1958. No one has them in this size.”

As such, Oman said new bricks will be used, with useable old bricks cleaned and saved for future use.

“This is the first repair job we’ve done on these bricks,” he said.

Like Oman and others, Mike Kitchen was amazed someone was willing to step up and donate his labor to the church.

“It’s unbelievable,” Kitchen said. “Rick’s a fantastic guy. He would normally charge about $5,000 for a project like this. You don’t find something like this anymore.”

When he actually started on the project, Jeffery realized the size of the task ahead.

“It was in pretty rough shape,” he said. “It was a lot more than I thought it would be. When you look at the mortar joints, they are deteriorating. You can’t get the brick that matches in this size.”

Despite the setbacks, Jeffery has enjoyed the project and particularly the people he’s met at the church.

“They’ve been excellent to work with,” Jeffery said. “It’s fun to work with nice people.”



In July, the Keizer Community Library hosted a discussion about literacy in the community and it got us wondering what Keizer was reading.

We solicited responses to the question via e-mail and Facebook from Keizer residents and local leaders. In return, we got a deluge of suggestions covering a wide swath of current fiction and nonfiction titles. The diversity of topics and genres was immense and only one book got mentioned twice, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

If you’re looking for a good read, Keizerites have plenty of thrilling potential starting points.

Donna Carlson,
office manager, Cummings Elementary School
Read Still Alice
by Lisa Genova
An excellent story about the effects of Alzheimer’s on both the family and the patient. Not just factual, it truly tells a story. It’s a must read twice.
Also suggested: Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel

David Philbrick,
Keizer resident and former city volunteer
Read The Boys in the Boat
by Daniel James Brown
It is about the University of Washington eight-man crew that won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  It is an inspiring, personal window into athletic accomplishment, the Northwest, and working-class America during the Depression.

Cathy Clark,
Keizer city councilor
Read Sons of the Profits by William C. Speidel
I got it after taking the Underground Tour of Seattle. It’s a hilarious romp through Seattle’s history from 1851 to 1901. I’ll never be able to see those streets named for the founding fathers in quite the same light again.
Also suggested: The Mitford series by Jan Karon

Samantha Ragaisis,
Weddle Elementary School Principal
Read An Innocent Client by Scott Pratt
I am a legal thriller junkie and summer is my time to catch up. I try to avoid any book that uses the following in summer months: budget, teaching, administration, state standards.
Also suggested: Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster and The Good Lawyer by Thomas Benigno.

Isaac Parker,
McNary football head coach
Read When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss
I look for how can I motivate 50 guys to work as a group when 11 of them are on the field. There’s so much psychology that goes into that and this book goes into it.

To read the complete article and other news from around the Keizer area, pick up a copy of the September 6 print edition of Keizertimes, available at stores all around the area. To subscribe to the print edition for just $25 a year, click on the ‘Subscribe Today’ link at the top of the page, call 503-390-1051 or visit our office at 142 Chemawa Road North in Keizer.