Read & edited by: Garrett Baker
Spoilers ahead — listen to the episode beforehand if you don’t want to hear a rough summary first.
I quite liked the "Playing God" episode of RadioLab.
The topic is triage, the practice of assigning priority to different patients in emergency medicine. By extension, to triage means to ration scarce resources. The episode treats triage as a rare phenomenon– in fact, it suggests that medical triage protocols were not taken very seriously in the US until after Hurricane Katrina– but triage is not a rare phenomenon at all. We are engaging in triage with every decision we make.
The stories in “Playing God” are gripping, particularly the story of a New Orleans hospital thrown into hell in a matter of days after losing power during Hurricane Katrina. Sheri Fink from the New York Times discusses the events she reported in her book, Five Days at Memorial. The close-up details are difficult to stomach. After evacuating the intensive care unit, the hospital staff are forced to rank the remaining patients for evacuation; moving the patients is backbreaking labor without the elevators, and helicopters and boats are only coming sporadically to take them away. Sewage is backing up into the hospital and the extreme heat is causing some patients and pets to have seizures.
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