Community Reading Project stirs class discussions

Photo by Amanda Pitts<br>Professor Jane Toot and students in her honors bioethics course discuss the Community Reading Project book 'Five Days at Memorial.'
Photo by Amanda Pitts
Professor Jane Toot and students in her honors bioethics course discuss the Community Reading Project book 'Five Days at Memorial.'
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Nursing students in Susan Strouse’s course donned extra jackets and sweaters and restricted their use of water to prepare for a class activity recently.

Strouse, assistant professor of nursing, asked students to portray characters from the Community Reading Project selection, “Five Days at Memorial” by Sheri Fink, to enhance their discussions.

The book details the days at Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Fink, both a physician and reporter, exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care, particularly during a natural disaster or large-scale crisis.

Half of Strouse’s students portrayed patients and the other half were health care providers. “We tried to simulate what we could,” Strouse said. “They wore extra clothes to make themselves warmer and limited their access to water,” she said.

Her exercise was successful and stressful, Strouse said, adding that the class is composed of registered nurses who are completing their bachelor’s degrees. “When we talked about the book before the exercise, the students couldn’t believe how nurses and other health care workers could have let that happen,” she said. “At the end, they didn’t agree with some of the decisions made by the characters in the book but they said they had a better understanding of why those decisions were made.”

That type of discussion is exactly what members of the CRP book selection committee want to hear on campus. Brian Jbara, director of Integrative Learning, said the annual book is chosen, partly, to generate good discussions. Fink’s book will be of particular interest to health professions and nursing students.

“Fink doesn’t tell the reader what to think. The committee liked that the reader is able to evaluate the events and make his/her own decision,” Jbara said.

Meijer Honors College students in Jane Toot’s bioethics course said the book’s chaotic scenes made them anxious and angry. Toot, professor of honors, said Fink does an excellent job of putting the reader in the situation.

“We don’t have massive flooding here or hurricanes, so it may be hard to relate but the author successfully puts you there,” Toot said. “And she makes you ask you ask the big question, ‘Does martial law supersede moral law?’”
One student said some health care workers made the situation more extreme by their actions, while others workers expressed more concern about their families and pets than their patients.

More information about “Five Days at Memorial” is online at Two upcoming events are planned prior to Fink’s campus visits in March.

• A panel of area medical and community disaster planning experts will discuss the book November 19, 4:30 p.m., at the DeVos Center, Loosemore Auditorium.

• Noted medical ethicist Dr. Joseph J. Fins will give a presentation on February 23 at the L. William Seidman Center.