“A complete breakdown of society”, is how I would describe conditions inside New Orleans’s Memorial Hospital during the days following hurricane Katrina. And when society breaks down, the weak die.
I just finished reading Five Days at Memorial by Pulitzer Prize winner Sheri Fink, a hair-raising true story of what went on inside Memorial Hospital while it was stranded in flooding waters.
From my perspective, people completely lost their senses, reverting to their most base human nature. Without electricity things were difficult. However one whole wing of the hospital still had power, a fact completely ignored by the staff who were in the dark, and jealously guarded by the staff who were in the light.
In the end, 45 people were dead, including a healthy paraplegic, the majority having been euthanized by a handful of medical personnel.
The book is a fascinating, while at the same time terrifying, study on human nature. Deep-rooted moral values are revealed in times of emergencies, as w ho we really are is tested. Silence is also deadly, as many who suspected what was happening preferred to turn their backs. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor who stood up against Hitler and his anti-Jewish actions. “God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
The author not only detailed the five-day events during the storm, but also followed events afterwards. One doctor was arrested, but public outcry was unanimously in her favor. “She was doing the best she could”, “You have no idea of how bad conditions were”, were two resounding phrases given in her defense.
Interestingly, just last week I was discussing this book with a friend who lives in New Orleans and was acquainted with the uproar over the events at the hospital. She too quickly came to the defense of the doctor. “You just don’t know how bad it was during that time” she said, reiterating one of the defense attorney’s plea for the doctor on trail.