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doi: 10.1097/NHH.0000000000000053
book reviews

Book Reviews

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Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital.

Fink, S. (2013).

New York, NY: Crown Publishers. 558 pages.

In Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm Ravaged Hospital, author Sheri Fink tells the story of hospital personnel including nurses and physicians who were at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest storms in the history of the United States; with massive property damage and more than 1,800 lost lives. As the storm moved inland, the levees that held back the seawater failed, and massive flooding ensued. Tensions and rumors within the hospital rose along with the floodwaters. In the most desperate of circumstances, healthcare providers found themselves without running water, functioning toilets, and minimal electricity. The heat was oppressive, the odors were sickening, and supplies were quickly being depleted. In this well-researched book, Fink provides evidence of what went on during those 5 days through hundreds of interviews with hospital personnel, attorneys, patients, and families. In all, 45 patients died, a number much higher than at any of the other area hospitals. Fink asks whether all these deaths were unavoidable, or were some of these patients victims of euthanasia. At the center of the controversy are Dr. Anna Pou, an ear, nose, and throat surgeon, and two surgical intensive care nurses. The trio was accused of administering lethal doses of drugs to patients who were deemed to be too sick to evacuate. The book raises issues of ethical decision making during natural disasters and places a spotlight on the startlingly inadequate emergency preparedness that preceded the events of September 2005. We may never know all that happened in those 5 days, but thanks to Sheri Fink for starting a long overdue national conversation.

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—Contributed by Maureen Anthony, PhD, RN

The author declares no conflicts of interest.

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Annie's Ghost.

Luxenberg, S. (2009).

New York, NY: Hyperion.

401 pages.

As far as author Steve Luxenberg knew, his mother was an only child—she was quick to point this out to every new acquaintance—but he kept one odd comment tucked away. His mother once told a doctor she had a sister who was institutionalized when she was 2 years old. After his mother's death, Luxenberg put his journalist skills to work and discovered that he did indeed have an aunt. She was institutionalized at 21 years old, not at 2 years, as his mother had claimed. She was committed to Eloise, a long-term, county psychiatric facility outside Detroit, Michigan, and all evidence of her existence was plucked from the family tree. Although she did have physical and cognitive disabilities, there seems to be little evidence of serious psychiatric problems that would warrant the life sentence Annie received. Unfortunately, this was not an unusual scenario for the era in which this book is set. In this well-written memoir, the author helps the reader understand the shame of mental illness and physical disabilities, and how far families would go to hide them. The reader also gets a sense of the hopelessness of those committed to these long-term facilities—an ostensible one-way door with perfunctory court hearings that did little if anything to serve and protect the rights of the patient. Annie's Ghost will take you to another era in psychiatric/mental healthcare.

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—Contributed by Maureen Anthony, PhD, RN

The author declares no conflicts of interest.

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Healthcare Decisions Day!

April 16 is Healthcare Decisions Day! All adults can benefit from thinking about what healthcare choices they would want made on their behalf if they were unable to speak for themselves—and writing those decisions down in an advance directive so that others know what they are. http://www.nhdd.org

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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