Working Stiff

Working Stiff

Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of A Medical Examiner

Book - 2014
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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.
Publisher: New York ;, Toronto :, Scribner,, 2014
Edition: First Scribner hardcover edition
ISBN: 9781476727257
Characteristics: 258 pages ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Mitchell, T. J.


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Nov 22, 2018

nice lady, gross job

Sep 01, 2018

Great book. Extremely engaging and informative, but not dull or pedantic. Worth a read!

Feb 15, 2018

Endearing and engaging given the grim subject matter... Dr. Melinek gives us and in depth view only few can provide while respecting those featured and their families. Would definitely recommend if you are a fan of mystery thrillers.. crime shows or if you binge watch Bones on Netflix!

Jan 17, 2018

Surprisingly enjoyable, given the subject matter. Well-written, warm hearted story by an extremely intelligent woman. Glad I had time to read this in one sitting, it's very worth the time

Feb 07, 2017

Interesting look into a fascinating profession. She is pretty matter-of-fact but had a wide variety of cases. She has a readable style--a fun and quick read but worth it.

Sep 28, 2016

I did not see described autopsies dark, or scary, or causing nausea, as some people could think referring to the subject of the book. It was quite interesting to read about the various causes of death and how a forensic expert, who is the author and the protagonist of the book, learned from experience to identify a particular cause of death.
I liked the fact that she is emphasizing that the object of autopsy - is, above all, a body of human being, and therefore is worthy of respect. If only because of the relatives.

Sep 01, 2016

Dr. Melinek's writing style and educational details made her book easy to read in terms of medical terminology. She handled horrible situations with humor and honesty. However, the graphic nature of the true stories may be a bit much for someone that's squeamish or has been traumatized by witnessing, living through, or having a loved one experience a violent death. I devoured the book in less than three days, but I did have to put it down at times when stories hit too close to home. In a way, I found it therapeutic to have medical insight into the natural deaths of loved ones and to see the dedication of professionals who handle all the aspects of death that we're normally shielded from.

May 06, 2016

9/3 - Reading this, I feel like this it's the true story of Kay Scarpetta, for the new century. I like Melinek's voice and style of writing and her irreverent way of looking at death. I love the way she describes her reaction to shows featuring characters doing her job - the fact that they go to every crime scene, the women wear their good high-heeled shoes, they actually help with the investigation. From now on CSI will be light-hearted crime fiction, in the same league as those 'cosy mysteries' that feature little old lady super-sleuths, not a realistic look into the life of a medical examiner. I can see the irony and humour in some of the causes of death that she sees (although, not when contemplating my own future). For example, an unfortunate worker having his morning coffee gets hit in the head by a giant crane, a crane so large that he is practically crumpled into the ground like an aluminium can. Although, at the same time reading medical nonfiction does hit a bit close to home for someone only weeks away from having major surgery to remove a 9 x 7 cm suspicious mass, along with 25% of her liver. Maybe I shouldn't be reading this right now... So far I'm enjoying it despite the negative thoughts it's bringing up. To be continued...

12/3 - Not as bad as I thought it was going to be re bringing up disturbing thoughts, except for one of the later chapters focussing on deaths due to 'medical misadventures' or 'therapeutic complications' as Melinek puts it - when a patient dies during non-emergent surgery due to surgeon error. Reading about the ordeal Melinek and her fellow medical examiners went through in the aftermath of September 11 was a little tough, even for someone who's never been to New York - body bags becoming body part bags becoming body bit bags (a lump of skin, a piece of an intestine) and thinking of all the families who don't KNOW what happened to their father, mother, son, daughter. That was really sad. I do wonder how she remembered the details of all these cases, from 14 years ago, so vividly, even seeming to repeat conversations word for word. I also wonder how she managed to get all the patient's families to agree to have their family member's death story revealed in the ME's memoir. There was no mention anywhere of the names having been changed to protect the surviving family members, so I have to assume that all those names are real. Whatever the case, highly recommended to those with a strong stomach and a lack of anxiety regarding all the ways they and their loved ones could die.

Jan 12, 2016

I really enjoyed this book. A lot. I liked how open she was about her descriptions of what she has seen and I liked how graphic she was. I found it very interesting.

Jun 08, 2015

I almost chose not to read this book as it mentioned that Dr. Melinek started work in NYC on a fellowship in the Medical Examiner's office less than two months before 9/11. I didn't think that I could deal with what she would write about concerning 9/11.

Fortunately, she chose not to write about the experiences until she was 3/4ths of the way through her book.

She chose to go to NYC after having studied and worked in a hospital elsewhere where the types of death were fairly routine. IN NYC she saw a huge variety of deaths and learned a tremendous amount as a result.

Melenik's husband who has a degree in English from Harvard co-authored the book with her and together they manage to make the experiences of a forensic pathologist clean and understandable to the lay person. They also intersperse humor throughout the book, making it much more "humane."

I have read mysteries with forensic pathologists are important characters and was interested in learning more about the job. While the details may be too gory for some readers, I found that the clear and very "human" presentation by the authors made it a compelling read.

One detail I found fascinating was that one can determine the age of a fetus by the size of its feet as all fetuses have the same same feet at a given week of the pregnancy. It was sad for Dr. Melenik to due the autopsy of a mother-to-be and her fetus, both victims of a hit-and-run-driver, but she was able to find out that the fetus was 19 weeks along based on such information.

Melenik autopsied a number of suicides during her two-year stint in NYC. She added a personal touch by telling the readers that she was 13 when her brilliant psychiatric father committed suicide. She uses her personal experience at times to relate to the survivors of people who took their own lives. She especially reached out to families with teenage daughters and told them of her experience and of the importance of telling them that suicide is not hereditary, something that many teen girls fear.

In all the horror of 9/11 she did tell of touching stories, including this humorous one: Her office received many packets of candy and granola bars from school children through the US with notes attached to them. One that made me smile was from a 4th grader in Idaho who wrote, "Thank you! You are going to Haven for this."

This book is well written and quite accessible for a person with no medical background. I found it very informative and also saw that people such as Dr Melenik care a great deal about the people they autopsy and their families, the people waiting for the results of the autopsies.

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Oct 11, 2016

"So don't jaywalk.

Wear your seat belt when you drive.

Better yet, stay out of your car and get some exercise.

Watch your weight.

If you're a smoker, stop right now. If your aren't, don't start.

Guns put holes in people. Drugs are bad.

You know that yellow line on the subway platform? It's there for a reason.

Staying alive, as it turns out, is mostly common sense."

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