Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and TJ Mitchell
"To confront death every day, to see it for yourself, you have to love the living."
"Let conversation cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where death delights to help the living." These words welcomed Dr. Judy Melinek to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the City of New York. Newly hired as a pathology fellow, she spent the next 2 years performing autopsies on a wide variety of cases to determine cause and manner of death for the official death certficate. This first person account puts the reader right into the mind and heart of the doctor as she receives her training and as she deals with many different situations in the morgue and out on a scene or in the city courthouse.
The book is rich in medical detail so be prepared for grisly, uncensored description of the cases Dr. Melinek witnesses or is tangentially involved in. Of particular horror are the sections recounting her experiences in the aftermath of both the 9/11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center and the American Airlines Flight 587 crash in Queens. I was particularly moved recognizing again the incredible effort during that mass-casualty disaster and the valiant, heroic people who tried to sustain the living so they could identify and reclaim the dead.
A bit uneven, the narrative jumps around in time, but is suffused with the personality and innate character of the author and her dedication to her profession. I love to read anything medical, and found this book extremely satisfying -- clearing up any misconceptions about what the job of Medical Examiner is and isn't. I recommend it to anyone interested in forensic pathology in its stark reality. I'll be thinking about the content for a long while and will remember that death investigation reveals that most unexpected fatalities are "either the result of something dangerously mundane, or of something preditably hazardous." That's somewhat comforting, right?
Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner for the e-book ARC to review.