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October 03, 2013 - Image 39

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-10-03

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arts & entertainment >> on the cover

Crisis Health Care

Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial is a gripping look at disaster preparedness and
health-care rationing at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Suzanne Chessler I Contributing Writer


"We need to ask questions of hospitals
and the government [when it comes to pre-
paredness]:' Fink said during a recent inter-
view with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show as
he questioned what led to the dark circum-
stances described in the book "There's no
one hero, and there's no one villain"
The author, the daughter of attorney
Herschel Fink and the late Annette Fink,
graduated from Andover High School and
had her religious training at Temple Beth
El in Bloomfield Township. Her career
interests intensified as she moved on to
firsthand medical experiences in a number
of danger zones, including Iraq and at the
border of Afghanistan.
The author's first book, War Hospital: A
True Story of Surgery and Survival, reports
on direct investigations of a battle-scarred
facility in Bosnia, where genocide became
the center of the conflict.
During a phone conversation from
her New York home, Fink previewed her
Michigan presentation and discussed the
issues she hopes will elicit analysis and dis-
cussion among professionals and the public:

JN: What did you want to point out

through your book?
SF: I wanted to show what is at stake
in failing to prepare adequately for rare
but foreseeable disasters. I also wanted to
show the impact of individual decision-
making when everything around the
individuals is failing.
When government and corporate infra-
structure are inadequate, it comes down
to you and me and the people around us
and how prepared we are to deal with the

JN: What went into researching the

day-to-day experiences at the hospital?
SF: It took me more than six years
of work from my first reporting trip to
publication. My research involved a com-
bination of interviews and the tracking of
documents from the time of the disaster
to the aftermath. Legal actions sometimes
resulted in facing people who wouldn't or
couldn't speak about what happened.
Because sometimes people's memories
were at odds and because I wasn't there to
witness the events, I had to do intensive
investigation to get the most accurate
version. Information had to be compared,

Author Sheri Fink:
"When resources are
compromised and

inadequate to the
needs questions of
mo values arise
rding who gets

seen more dramati-
cally in times of crisis.
During disaster tri-
age, we really observe
the effects of avail-
able resources and
make tough decisions
about who gets what.
Questions of ethics
become very acute.
We need to grapple
with them in advance.

JN: Does this book

serve, in any way, as
an examination of
Jewish-based values?
SF: The history of
LIFE HI Mil II 1 3111111-111MI 11081.1M
secular medical ethics
is very much entwined
Five Days at Memorial,
history of religious
which has been garnering
and there's
rave reviews, is the first
book chosen for MSNBC's
Morning Joe Book Club,
tions from other faiths.
a monthly series of
I was fortunate to be
interviews and discussions
of a discussion of
on the hottest, new
outlooks that cov-
nonfiction books.
ered Jewish, Catholic and
Muslim perspectives on
these events. The objective was to examine
and the search for the truth was very
how theological teachings applied to [deci-
sion-making]. One question involved who
should get resources when there plainly
JN: What made you decide to work on
aren't enough to go around.
this project?
SF: I heard allegations that something
JN: What are your personal conclusions?
horrible had happened at Memorial
SF: The most important thing to take
Medical Center — that doctors and nurses
from this involves the stakes of having very
had euthanized their patients or, in terms
preventable vulnerabilities in our medical
of the prosecutor, had murdered their
Hospitals are not as prepared as they
It just seemed that whatever happened,
could be for crisis situations. It's perhaps
something had gone very wrong, and it
understandable because we have competing
would be very important to learn what had
priorities in this country. There may be a
happened before the next disaster.
role for regulations because it's hard other-
I think my background of having worked wise to prioritize things that may become
in conflict and disaster situations, variously
important but are not inevitable.
as an aid worker and reporter, made this
Personal preparedness is very important
project a natural for me to tackle.
because you never know what might hap-
pen. When resources are compromised and
JN: What specific issues need to be
inadequate to the needs, questions of moral
values arise regarding who gets treatment.
SF: We all could face disaster no matter
We need a wider conversation about what
where we are, but it's also the case that the
we want our health professionals to do in
most difficult conundrums in medicine
situations that are desperate.
— such as end-of-life issues and medical
coverage — are with us all the time but are
IN: What made you decide to move from




being a practicing physician to being a
SF: I took a year off after medical school
to go to the Balkans to look at how medi-
cine was practiced during wartime, and that
became my first book.
War broke out in Kosovo while I was in
the Balkans, and I started to do humanitar-
ian work. The combination of aid work and
writing about medicine became my passion
and took me in a different direction. It was
a tough decision, but I didn't want to have
my attentions divided.
If I was going to be a physician, I wanted
to do that with all of my energy and efforts.
I didn't want to diffuse that with other
work. I wanted to write what would interest
the wider public. It's important for the pub-
lic to know about these events and weigh in
on them.

IN: What should we keep in mind about

decisions of caregivers in crisis areas?
SF: In some ways, part of what is so dif-
ficult about what the doctors face is that
it isn't just the patients who are suffering.
The power and running water go out, and
it's hard to keep things clean. It's important
for doctors and nurses to take care of them-
selves; otherwise they can't do their jobs.
It's hard to make good decisions during
these times. Context is important in think-
ing about decisions made at Memorial.
People are put in a difficult frame of mind
in the face of exhaustion, insecurity, fear
and the loss of usual tools.
We're so used to high-tech medicine that
it's extremely difficult for health-care pro-
fessionals to lose the tools that they rely on
to help patients get better.

Sheri Fink is scheduled to speak at
this year's JCC Jewish Book Fair
at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, in
West Bloomfield. Her appearance
is the first half of a two-part pro-
gram that also features Allen Salkin,
author of From Scratch: Inside the
Food Network, who will be speaking
at 8 p.m. Tickets are required and
cost $10 for JCC members and $12
for nonmembers (the $10/$12 price
covers both talks; separate tickets
for just one talk are not available).
Check out our special Book Fair
package in the Oct. 31 issue of the

Detroit Jewish News.

October 3 • 2013


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