Sheri Fink’s ‘Five Days at Memorial’

The general consensus among audience members at Dr. Sheri Fink’s Oct. 5 lecture seemed to be that she was a great choice to start off the second year of the Rollins Health Forum series. Holt School Dean Dr. David Richard and President Grant H. Cornwell were in attendance, among Winter Park community members and Rollins students.

Fink’s novel Five Days at Memorial explores one of the main controversies of the Hurricane Katrina disaster: Memorial Hospital’s response. Quite frankly, heroes were born and monsters subsequently made, but as Fink was all too quick to point out in her lecture, it is not for us to judge. We never know what decisions we would have made if confronted with the same situation.

Some of the nurses braved the humidity and the heat, never leaving their patients’ sides, even when told they could. Groups of hospital staff also tried carrying patients on sick beds up rickety flights to awaiting helicopter rescue teams. One man even kept two neonates incubated with his own body heat during a helicopter ride to a nearby hospital.

However, crisis and rampant fear often lead to hard decisions.

What moral guidelines can one resort to in such times of crisis? What criteria are there to refer to when deciding who to save first and who to leave behind? When it lost the use of its generators, Memorial Hospital had 2,000 people inside, not to mention many of the staff’s children, pets, and families. Helicopters were scarce at first, and the doors were blocked off because of heavy flooding. For patients on the verge of life and death, such circumstances usually end in fatality.

Despite morphine handouts, doctors thought it was best for the patients with little chance of survival not to have to suffer through the lack of air conditioning and respirators. Several bodies in the Memorial Hospital morgue were later discovered to have especially high levels of two distinct drugs. Of course, the increased levels of these drugs might have been intended as a means of comfort, which mattered more than potential risks, but some cases still seem to point to euthanasia.

Fear of the worst has a habit of making time run very slowly; however, in the long run, it only took a short time period—five days—before such drastic measures as euthanasia were in effect. In Five Days at Memorial, Fink studies in detail the factors leading to these choices and the ensuing investigation into the hospital and the doctors on call at the time.

Students and the Rollins community can look forward to future lectures from the Health Forum series.

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