Book Club ’14: Five Days at Memorial & Men We Reaped
Two nonfiction books today, both set in the same area (New Orleans) in the same era (Katrina and after). One is about Katrina, one isn’t really, both are about choices that may or may not lead to death, and both will make you stop and think about why and when people die. It’s a reflection on ethics everyone should make.
Summary: From GoodReads,
In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.
After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.
Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.
In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.
My take: What would you do, in a crippled hospital, ordered to stay, then ordered to evacuate, with patients who were about to die anyway? I don’t think any of us can really answer that. We can only say what we would hope to do. I hope I would simply stay. I hope the right choice would be to let a dying person breathe to the end in dignity, and not choose to, for example, smother someone to death. This book showed me a side of Katrina I had never thought of before, and I should have. We all should. Because we could be next, to be in the aftermath of a natural disaster and faced with difficult choices of life or death.
Summary: From GoodReads,
In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth—and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.
My take: The summary says “because of who they were and where they were from,” and you do get a clear sense that these men were mired in a series of difficult circumstances, but I don’t remember thinking that Ward was negating personal responsibility. People make their own choices, but for some, life makes it too easy to make all the wrong ones. I am very blessed that making better life choices has been made easy for me, and I admire people who make them when it is very difficult, and I mourn, with Jesmyn Ward, those who do not resist making terrible choices when those are the easiest ones.