“Five Days at Memorial” jumps back in time, first giving us interviews with several post-Katrina personnel. Who is interviewing them, and why, is kept somewhat of a mystery at first, for no good reason other than to pull the story a bit and provide some intrigue. From there we are dropped off at the hospital the night before the storm hits completely. We are introduced to several staff members, including the nun Dr. Anna Pou (Vera Farmiga), who is relatively new to the hospital and despised by many of her colleagues. There’s also Susan Mulderick (Cherry Jones), a director of nursing who also operates as the hospital’s incident commander. It’s her job to prepare the hospital, but it soon becomes clear that she hasn’t considered all eventualities. Worse: when she leafs through a large binder containing instructions for emergencies, she discovers that there are no plans in place to evacuate the hospital in the event of a flood.
As it happens, Memorial was actually home to two different hospitals – there was the main hospital, which was originally called Baptist. But upstairs, on the top floor, resided LifeCare, which provided long-term care for critically ill patients. While these two medical centers were located in the same building, their staff were completely separate and had almost no contact with each other. Sure enough, when things begin to gradually get worse, a disconnect begins to form between the two hospitals.
The first episode of the series does a solid job of establishing a rotating cast of characters as well as the various spaces of the hospital, and as the series unfolds actual Katrina news footage is cut to give us a broader scope of what is happening. The series increases the tension as the storm gets worse, but the first episode may be the quietest of the bunch, as what follows becomes progressively disastrous and so disturbing that it made me squirm, extremely badly. comfortable with what I was looking at. It’s not a complaint – it’s a disturbing story, after all, all the more disturbing for being based in reality. But “Five Days at Memorial” ultimately goes to such gruesome lengths that it begs the question: will anyone want to watch this? Or will it be too horrible to bear?