Monday, June 13, 2016

Book review: "Working Stiff: 2 Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner" by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell

Judy didn't grow up thinking that she was going to be a medical examiner. She had her heart set on being a surgeon but the residency for surgeons is VERY intense (and frankly a little bit dangerous sounding, for patients AND residents). She'd always been good at and interested in pathology, so she found a spot in New York City where she could see if she had what it takes to be a medical examiner.

She got some very strange cases. She got a lot of "routine" cases (lots of drug deaths). She saw some things that made her go home and hug her family a little closer.

There were two parts in the book that really resonated with me.

The first was that the more she learned about the things that she saw doing autopsies the more things she noticed about strangers on the street:

"The matron pushing the shopping cart in the grocery store, with the yellow glow behind the whites of her eyes, is in liver failure...Should I walk up to the woman with a melanoma on her neck and warn her that she needs to show it to her doctor right away?...Doing autopsies for a living did not make me afraid of the world- but I was being haunted by ghosts who weren't dead yet".

That's hard, right? Like you want to help people but also mind your own business? Does the woman in liver failure already know and she's self conscious about her eyes and you pointing it out (even helpfully) will make her feel worse? That's tough.

The other part is when she is talking about working in the days and weeks immediately following September 11th. She even heard the first plane before it hit the tower (she thought "huh, that plane sounds really loud. It must be flying low for some reason".) 

The process that they had to go through and with the "material" they had  to work with was horrible. They would find a female arm fused into a male torso (the heat from the explosions). Or just a hand with a neat, undamaged manicure. It just turns your stomach just to think about it. But it's also encouraging to see how many people worked SO HARD to bring closure to the families of the victims, and if it weren't for them there would be a lot of lingering doubt. It was a very rare case that a whole body was found to be return. Often just feet in shoes or wedding rings (internal sob) were found and so Macy's donated those things that you put your foot in to measure them, and Tiffany's donated ring sizers. All to help try to get people back to their families.


This book is slightly depressing, just because of the subject matter but it really is a fast, interesting read. Medical examiners are an important part of the legal process and it was interesting to get an insider look at what they do! 3.5 out of 5 stars!


1 comment:

Thank you so much for your comment. I'd love to talk books with you!