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 and Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.
As I searched for more books about September 11, I stumbled across this book by a forensic pathologist who actually worked with identifying and cataloging the remains of those who were lost on that fateful day. I know that sounds morbid and I was weary as I begin to delve into the pages, but the story that unfolds is nothing like I would have ever expected.
Dr. Melinek is a story teller and though she probably set out to tell her story, in the end, she winds up telling the story of many of the people she worked on during her two years of working in New York City. Death is tragic and it’s one of those topics that leaves a lot of people uncomfortable to talk about. But the way Dr. Melinek goes about it, didn’t leave me uncomfortable. She was learning a trade that helps her put together the last moments of a person’s life and sometimes parts of their entire life. I found it to be educational and if it weren’t for my fear of needles or dead people, I may have gone into the medical field (though I would have never had the guts to do what she does.)
The story unfolds in a sporadic way, as she talks about cases she works. Sometimes she has information about cases that unfold because of the death, sometimes it correlates with her memories of her father’s suicide. Each case brings up its own questions and sometimes it is the information from outside sources and not the body that give her the true insight to what happened. I’m not saying there’s nothing morbid about this book. It’s about doing autopsies on people who have died from a number of reasons. But I think the author handled the content well and in a way, she reminded me of Temperance Brennan from the show Bones. She connected to the stories of these people and she did everything she could to ensure their deaths were handled with respect. This is definitely not a book for everyone, but I found it to be an interesting read.