Triage is the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients. Especially in battle or disaster, victims are accorded priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.
In 1998, I read and chose Scott Anderson’s first novel, Triage as our December First Edition’s Club choice. Scott’s fine novel dealt with war trauma in Kurdistan and the Spanish Civil War. Triage focuses on the way people rationalize wartime horrors and the affirmation of life that comes to those who can deal with the aftermath in an honest way.
In May 2013, I read Jeffrey Shaara’s novel, A Chain of Thunder. (also a First Editions Club pick) About the seige of Vicksburg 150 years earlier, one of the most interesting aspects of Jeff’s book was the way he treated the practice of medicine in the Rebel hospitals trapped by Grant’s army.
With her new book, Sheri Fink, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, describes five hard days and the realities of triage during hurricane Katrina’s siege on New Orleans; New Orleans Memorial Medical Center became a hospital fighting for its life in the days after the storm.
Reading this book, I relived the decisions the nurses and doctors had to make. Fink explores the consequences of the life and death decisions on the doctors and nurses who are forced to make them. Dr. Anna Maria Pou, a specialist in cancer surgery, is a primary figure in Five Days. As a reader, I followed Pou through the days after the storm. The difficult situations she found herself in, and the decisions she made are related honestly and in real-life detail. I felt the emotions and stresses of her time. Other major hospital personalities are explored as chaos was breaking out in the disaster. Memorial’s nurses, staff, and doctors were challenged as their strengths and weaknesses came to the surface through their decision making.
After the five-day ordeal, Fink covers how the journalistic and legal systems interpreted the hospital’s process of providing adequate disaster healthcare. Triage became a major focal point. Five Days then delves into how the doctors and nurses handled the aftermath of their decisions. Fink explores a broad range of perspectives as she takes the trial and press of Pou through the courts. As a legal treatise, for me, a Mississippian, the format reminds me of reading Wilke’s House of Zeus. I suggest this study of a Katrina trial for the same reader.
This fine book on a challenging subject is good reading–a thought provoking study of a miserable time.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink, New York: Crown Publishers (September 2013)Written by John