summer readings

Read any good books lately?

My summer reading goals began earnest enough.

Goals are good and yes, I had them right here on my nightstand.

I wish I could tell you that I read them all. What can I say, life, family, work, moving often got in the way. And one book too.

Four months ago, at our Disaster Planning Committee meeting, I was asked if I had ever read Five Days At Memorial.

No.

You should. You need to read this book.

And so I added it to the pile of books to read for the summer of 2016.

So much in Sheri Fink’s 486+ page account is already known about what happened and what went absolutely wrong leading up to, during and after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Most of us can pretty much agree it was an all around fuck up with pretty much any government official, agency, response team at all levels responsible for the massive fail to the people in and around New Orleans 11 years ago this week. Fink’s book reconstructs five days at Memorial Medical Center (now known as Oschner Baptist).and draws you into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.

For me, this was at times a very difficult read. I cheered for the nurses, the doctors, the family members, the patients. I especially cheered for Dr. Gershanik who cradled 24 weeker, Baby S, handbagging him trying to mimic an oscillator ventilator and the un-named nurse who tucked another tiny baby inside her bra as they were the last preemies to be transported out of Memorial on August 30 (page 93) But as the flood waters continued to rise and critical patients trapped began to die, I became very frustrated with the poor planning at all levels from the bedside to the corporate level that was happening at Memorial.

Yes, I had to close the book and find something else to do like searching for images of meowls because as creepy as they are, they are kind of cool too and a very much welcome distraction.

Five Days At Memorial is absolutely, positively an indictment of the poorest of disaster planning in healthcare. History of this hospital proved that they should have been better prepared even if government agencies and their own corporate owners miles away in Texas were not able to support them better…and they should have supported them better because people died unnecessarily in the absolute worst conditions…in America.

In the aftermath of Katrina and the rebuilding of some of New Orleans, Fink details the investigation of what happened at Memorial and the way that some patients died there during those five days. Again more outrage for me and the closing of the book and walking away…especially after the account provided by Memorial CFO Curtis Dosch and COO Sean Fowler who casually mentioned that the cancer institute connected to Memorial via sky bridges has a working generator and electricity throughout the disaster. Hospital executives went there to make phone calls and coffee…and watching TV for a bit. (page 320). Yes, that happened.

Five Days At Memorial digs deep into it all and so much more touching on years later with the response in New Orleans to Hurricane Isaac and Superstorm Sandy in New York City at NYU Langone Medical Center…yes, that amazing, heroic evacuation that is revealed could have likely been avoided had a better disaster plan been in place!

In the end the takeaway is that dramatic scenes like this do not occur often…but terrible triage conundrums can arise anywhere, at any time  and that they have the power to change lives irrevocably. Across the country many hospitals in flood zones have electrical backup power systems in their basement. Others, in earthquake zones, were constructed before modern building codes. Others are simply situated in Tornado Alley. To the extent that protections and plans have been put into place since Katrina and Sandy and Joplin, Missouri have shown them to be inadequate or misguided. Life and death in the immediate aftermath of a crisis most often depends on the preparedness, performance, and decision making of the individuals on the scene because disaster planning and preparedness in healthcare is so much more than fire drills.

And now, at last, I can sit down and read Hamilton!

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2 thoughts on “summer readings

  1. True readers always have a massive stack of unread titles! As for Five Days, yes, it is difficult to take! But Fink did an amazing job of research and bringing it all together. It’s one of those books I will never forget. As for the other books in your pile — I’ve read J.K. Rowling and Diana Gabaldon, but their books tend to run together after a while. Wild is memorable. I’ve not read Hamilton, but I hope you enjoy it.

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