The Desperate Hours ~ by Maria Brenner

Although it’s not without a few flaws, this is an incredible account of one New York Hospital systems battle with Covid-19. I heard about it on TV, found it at Audible, sampled, purchased and downloaded straightaway, it went right into the top of the TBR pile on my computer (not my Wish List!). And as soon as I was finished reading the book I had going and wrote a blog entry I started in on The Desperate Hours.

The Desperate Hours: 
One Hospital’s Fight to Save a City on the Pandemic’s Front Lines,
by Maria Brenner 

2022 / (487 pp) 
Read by Kirsten Potter 15h 41m
Rating 9.25  / medicine – current events

The author, Maria Brenner, is not any old off-the-street writer who had a good idea and set about investigating, interviewing, and writing it up. She has excellent hard-earned credentials via 7 prior books, various assignments as a regular investigative reporter for Vanity Fair and other high level assignments. That’s in addition to teaching journalism at Columbia University in New York.

This book just grabbed my attention almost right away. It seems I was finally ready for an examination of the Covid-19 crisis which we lived through during 2020 and 2021. Of course no one book can cover that epic pandemic and all its threads. But from a medical perspective at one hospital system in New York City (the best hospital in NYC) this is a fine starting point. 

With origins in Wuhan China in 2019, Covid-19 quickly spread to the world including the totally unprepared US which lacked knowledge, resources, and even political will at first. But when people started dying attitudes changed and because some people said they were trying to prevent panic, things got worse. Simply put, enough attention wasn’t paid at first and then the information got mangled between all sorts of voices, President Trump. 3 government agencies, Fox News and on Social Media. 

Brenner’s book is an inside look at the unfolding events and seeming chaos at New York-Presbyterian, an academic health center and system. From the cleaning staff and morgue transport to top echelon administration Brenner outlines their challenges, disappointments and victories during the time between January of 2020 to April of 2021. Those were some long years and it still wasn’t over.  

At first, back then, from my news-tuned armchair, I was aghast at the creeping plague-epidemic-pandemic or whatever it was called. (I never called it the China anything). Then I was horrified as New York seemed to flounder in spite of all the warnings. And then came the mask problem and the shortages of beds, staff, ventilators and finally the body-bags. Brenner really focuses on the heroic efforts of that hospital – albeit after the fact – but pretty effectively dismisses (trashes might be a better word) the actions of Trump and Cuomo and other political people (CDC?) Brenner catches the spirit of the near panicking staff and public as well as those who remained focused and on task just trying to save lives however their job described.

A bit too much time is spent on backstories for some of the individuals, but I suspect Brenner was trying to inject some touching and really personal aspects.IT’s well done but there are a lot of “characters.” They’re listed at the front of the book but although I had good intentions, I rarely bothered to check because I just went with the flow and a few names stuck, Nathaniel Hupert, Karen Bacon, Roseanne Paso, Tomoaki Kato, Cleavon Gilman, Michael Fosina, Lorna Breen, Susi Bibi, Maeve Kennedy McKean, 

Very little is said about Anthony Fauci (The face of the pandemic to some of us) who is the head of the National Institute of Health. He’s kind of mentioned in passing, but I think he and his group had very little to do with NY Presbyterian who were more under the control of. Robert Redfield of the CDC,  

I was amazed at how various organizations and individuals navigated these times, how they improvised and created and adapted and survived.  But we didn’t exactly know the whole story – we didn’t know how frantically the hospitals and institutions were struggling to for “their brand” and its reputation. This gets ugly.  

But we all promised ourselves it would never happen again. This wasn’t 1918 so weren’t in the middle of a World War. . This time we’d remember the lessons learned. Right? And after the vaccines were available and the panic had subsided and the shut-downs were alleviated with the kids and workers going  back to offices or school the tensions eased. Did we forgot? Maybe not. Maybe we went into denial. Maybe this time someone in government is charged with keeping a disaster plan alive and with parts provided. Sad to say I don’t think this kind of disaster can be avoided when commerce and travel are necessary for our economies to survive. This may be a downside of globalization.

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