Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner – Judy Melinek, T.J. Mitchell

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. – Goodreads.com

Working stiff is a harrowing, disturbing and truthful account of what it is to perform autopsies for a  living. I’m not the most squeamish person but I have to admit, imagining the things happening in this book as vividly as they are described is quite disturbing. It probably doesn’t help that I have a bit of a fear of and feelings of disgust towards bones and brains. I have no idea where that came from and I guess it’s kind of strange that my brain in a way hates itself? Anyway…

Working stiff details unusual and gruesome deaths, whether accidents or crimes, and details the aftermath including reporting findings to the family and giving people closure. It was a much more emotional journey that I was expecting. I find a lot of memoirs or books on the topic of crime can be quite impersonal, but this one was incredibly deep and engaging.

One of the most difficult sections to read was that of 9/11. It really offered an insight into the more behind the scenes work that went into identifying people who perished in the tragic attack and through most of it I found myself close to tears. It really brought home the kind of rippling effect crimes and tragedies like these have on families, friends, the world and especially those who are on site almost 24 hours a day engaging in search and rescue and recovery operations. It’s a side of 9/11 that is not often talked about and it definitely opened some old wounds.

We get to read about Judy Melinek’s family life as well as work life and the effects that this kind of job can have on a more personal level. I have a lot of respect for people who do these tough jobs. As much as I would like to think I could, I don’t think it’s something that I would be able to handle. Kudos and many thanks to them.

Pros

  • Well written and personable
  • Tragedies like 9/11 are not sugar coated or watered down
  • Raw emotion and experiences
  • Compelling

Cons

  • Not so much a con, but it is a very confronting and humbling read
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