“Don’t jaywalk. Wear your seatbelt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of the car, and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you’re a smoker stop right now. If you aren’t, don’t start. Guns put holes in people. Drugs are bad…Staying alive is mostly common sense.”
Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner
T.J. Mitchell, Judy Melinek, MD
The fearless memoir of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner, and the cases—hair-raising and heartbreaking and impossibly complex—that shaped her as both a physician and a mother.
Just two months before the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a New York City forensic pathologist. With her husband T.J. and their toddler Daniel holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation—performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy’s two years of training, taking readers behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple, including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines flight 587.
Lively, action-packed, and loaded with mordant wit, Working Stiff offers a firsthand account of daily life in one of America’s most arduous professions, and the unexpected challenges of shuttling between the domains of the living and the dead. The body never lies—and through the murders, accidents, and suicides that land on her table, Dr. Melinek lays bare the truth behind the glamorized depictions of autopsy work on shows like CSI and Law & Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.
This is intriguing story, told in a personable and conversational way, with black humour, personal insights, some interesting characters and plenty of passion. You can feel this doctor’s affinity for her role and the pride she has for revealing the cause of death, particularly in homicide cases where she “speaks on behalf of the dead.”
This narrative is told with honesty that sometimes catches you unaware, particularly when the author discusses suicides and neonatal and child deaths; so sad. The life of an Medical Examiner is dissected and probed and all is revealed; the ugliness of death, the stench, the maggots, the sloughing skin, the reek of alcohol, the worry of infection but all is told is a calm and meaningfull manner – this is not “voyeur of the dead” material, this is life (because death also affects the living), death and some deaths are good deaths and some… you really should not ask about.
Throughout this narrative the authors’ voices carry you on a journey, you walk side by side with the rookie M.E and take lessons with her, then suddenly the world changes, the tone changes and it is chilling. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centre towers and other threats shake up the world and have a very personal direct impact on Dr Melinek; she sees firsthand the destruction and violation of life. This section of the book is…overwhelmingly sad and horrific, the work of the first responders and the medical staff tasked with identifying the human remains is a mammoth and heartbreakingly poignant. All involved in the rescue and recovery deserve our thanks.
This is truly a remarkable book told with respect and passion.