Tag Archives: Medicine

Review: Five Days at Memorial

Five Days at MemorialFive Days at Memorial
By Sheri Fink
(Crown, Hardcover, 9780307718969, September 2013, 576pp.)

The Short of It:

A nearly impossible to believe account of what happened at Memorial Medical Center after the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The Rest of It:

I don’t know what I was doing when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 but let me tell you, I had no idea that any of the accounts in this book took place. Fink provides a detailed account of the five days immediately following Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that affected Memorial Medical Center. I will provide some highlights:

  • The lack of power was a problem, as was the lack of fuel for the emergency generators which happened to be below flood level.
  • Hospital staff was limited, and those that were there had their families and pets staying there with them.
  • No running water, meant no use of the facilities and the back-up of human waste was impossible to contain.
  • Many patients required life-saving assistance and without power, the care of said patients posed a problem.
  • Rescue was made by helicopter but getting patients to the helipad without elevators presented a huge challenge.
  • It was hot. SWAMPY hot and without AC or fans, some of the patients declined rapidly.

Did you read that last one? After five days, there were still patients in the building with no way to get them out. These were the most critical cases or in some cases, the most elderly. The staff was told that they MUST evacuate which meant leaving these patients behind. One doctor in particular, Dr. Anna Pou, made the choice to “make patients comfortable” by giving them what was essentially a lethal concoction of two medications to make them sleep…forever.

The first half of the book provides a detailed account of those five days and the second half covers the legal proceedings that followed. The first half was riveting, the second half, not so much and could have been shortened up, in my opinion. This was a hard book to digest for many reasons. The idea of a doctor deciding a person’s fate is alarming but don’t they do it all the time?

While reading, I found myself thinking “No! These people are bat-shit crazy!” but then a few pages later my opinion would change. In the back of my mind, I have convinced myself that something else could have been done, but these people were exhausted. Were they even capable of making such big decisions? No sleep. Limited food. Horrible conditions. I’m not sure.

My main problem with the book, and one that kept coming up for me over and over is that Fink didn’t appear to have an opinion of her own on the situation. She’s a journalist but she received her M.D. from Stanford so she must have a medical opinion on what took place. Right? If it was there, I didn’t read it.

I think anyone who works in the medical profession can learn something about disaster recovery by reading this book but really, anyone interested in disaster recovery can learn a lot from all of the mistakes made. The hospital and the administration and staff were not prepared for such a disaster. Simple things like outlet placement by windows, or the fact that the generators were in the basement below the flood plain, stuff like that.

This book was read for my book club and it was a lively discussion.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Gluten Detective (Part 2)

This post is in response to all of you who have asked me about a gluten-free diet and how it has helped me. Anyone who has been sick for a very long time or has dealt with odd symptoms might want to read this series of posts. I am not a doctor. I do not work in a medical field. This is simply my experience and if it helps one of you, then great.

When I left you last week, I had just been diagnosed with Lupus. Initially, I was glad to have a diagnosis. My Rheumatologist put me on Prednisone and an antimalarial (what they use to treat Lupus) and I felt TONS better. The joint pain subsided which made me feel like a new person but as treatment continued… things were still not right and the disease, whatever it was, morphed into other things.

I had visual migraines (which were painless but involved periods of blindness)
I began to lose my voice.
My teeth began to break for no known reason.
I began to get the classic Lupus rash that everyone talks about.
I had asthma attacks even though I had no history of asthma previously.
Sometimes I would break out with blisters in my throat.
My left tonsil disintegrated. Seriously, it broke apart and vanished.
I got hit with adult acne.
Food got stuck in my throat.
There were days where I’d gain 15 lbs for no reason (overnight).
Men, cover your eyes…menstruation was a nightmare.
My lethargy increased (this took years to get really bad).
Iron levels dropped to 5 (transfusions were mentioned and declined).

Because of these symptoms, I saw many specialists. The Ear, Nose and Throat doc confirmed damage to my vocal chords. The Gastroenterologist said I had a Hiatal Hernia which caused reflux, which in turn damaged my throat and caused asthma like conditions. Because of the reflux, I must be bleeding somewhere internally which caused the low iron levels. Because of the asthma, I saw an allergist who tested me for all sorts of stuff and noted a sensitivity to soy and poultry. In theory, some of this made sense but much of it was just to rule other stuff out. Barium swallows, endoscopies and manometry (sensor put down throat for 24 hrs) all proved that there was no reflux.

In the midst of all of this, my GYN who is pill happy and wants nothing more than to carve out your uterus (no kidding) wanted me to get a hysterectomy. I had ultrasounds to rule out tumors which came back negative but she still wanted me to consider this drastic option. Plus, I do believe she hit on me. Talk about uncomfortable!

The turning point for me, came with the colonoscopy that was ordered by my doc. For those who have never had one, the test is a breeze. Don’t be afraid of it, but the prep work can be a bit of a pain with all that drinking and fasting. Mine was a 4-day fast and although I complained the entire time, by day 4, I was feeling normal. NORMAL. No weirdness. No visual migraines. Energy was good. No rashes. No asthma. The test went well. All was negative but the doc forgot to take a biopsy. Yes. He forgot.

As soon as I could eat, I did and within 3 hours I began to react to my food. That is when it struck me that it HAD to be food related. I went back to my allergist and he suggested I remove gluten for two weeks to see if anything improved. I did as he instructed and by end of that trial, I did notice some improvement so I continued with the gluten-free diet but didn’t consider myself 100 % gluten-free yet as I was still playing around with my food trying to figure out what I could eat.

Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and grain species. The wheat was easy to avoid but the hidden gluten found in say…soy sauce or cosmetics was a larger issue. Cross contamination was a problem too. I’d order gluten-free pasta off the menu yet the cooks would prepare it in the same water as regular pasta. Hello?? You can’t do that!

I continued with my gluten-free diet for over a year, before my doctor noticed that my iron levels began to improve and my Lupus tests began to come back negative. He asked me what I was doing, so I told him. He then sent me for a Celiac test but you have to be eating gluten for it to be a true test, and I could not tolerate even one bite. I tried, but broke out in blisters down my throat and was out of commission for over a week. So although I do not have a positive result to show for it, I do live as if I have Celiac disease which involves damage to the villi of the small intestine when gluten is consumed. To translate, I was not absorbing nutrients. So all of those iron supplements were not doing a darn thing since I couldn’t absorb it and because my digestion was so off, I was polluted with a capital P.

I still test positive once in a while for Lupus but it’s a very weak positive and might have to do with cross-contamination of food at the time of my blood work, All in all, I am much better and believe wholeheartedly that gluten is the cause.

As long as this post is, I could have easily written ten more pages on the subject. Why? Because it really just skims the surface. I am a forty-something who wants to know exactly what is going on at all times. So many times, “I” had to ask the question. “I” had to suggest a test. So many patients are okay with whatever the doctor tells them but I am not. I want to see the numbers and I want to be told WHY something is being done. Most of my doctors were okay with that and in fact, encouraged it. Some, were not and that’s okay because I have other doctors in the network that I can see instead of them.

Thank you for your comments and concern. I am much, much better and my “off” days don’t come nearly as often now that I am used to eating this way. Stores are carrying gluten-free items and restaurants, for the most part, go out of their way if I make a special request. I find that most people want to accommodate me if they can, so I always ask. It can’t hurt, right? My vocal chords are permanently damaged so I no longer teach, as speaking is tough after a 10 minutes or so but my work accommodated me by changing my job description which I am grateful for.

If you have often wondered if diet could be the cause of your problems, you can always try to go gluten-free for a couple of weeks to see if it makes a difference. If you try it, let me know.