Working Stiff by Dr. Judy Melinek and TJ Melinek
Thanks to badkittyuno for writing this review or I might never have known about this great book. I started it on Sunday and finished it today, and thoroughly enjoyed most of it.
Dr. Melinek is a forensic pathologist who spent two years as a fellow working in the New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Her time there was interesting for many reasons, including the fact that she worked there during the fall of 2001, when the city was dealing with deaths from 9/11, the Antrax attacks, and a plane crash in Queens.
It makes sense that this book would interest me. A couple of years ago in a Pajiba comment diversion, I shared a bit about what I do for a living. I still do that work, and am still learning, so the parts of this book that I found myself highlighting were in the chapter on the response to 9/11. There were a few comments in there that I found to be pretty helpful and that I’m going to look into incorporating into our plans. So from that perspective, the book was quite helpful.
But it was also well written. While I’m sure each chapter has some cohesive theme (as Dr. and Mr. Melinek don’t just write chronologically), I don’t think it was necessarily broken down into obvious chunks. And yet the topics all flowed well, and flowed naturally. The storytelling was engrossing, fascinating and, from my experience working with MEs, not fantastical or exaggerated at all.
A couple of quibbles: autopsy reports are generally public information, so I recognize that Dr. and Mr. Melinek aren’t breaking any laws in sharing this information, but some parts felt a bit like a breach of ethics. Mostly, her interactions with grieving family members. Unless names were changed, or permission granted (which I doubt), some of the stories she told seemed like they could really cause additional pain for the family members. Who knows if any of them will read this book (probably unlikely), but it made me think a little bit of that ABC hospital documentary that showed the death of someone whose wife unsuspectingly saw it on TV a couple of years later. It was traumatic. Obviously stumbling on a TV show is easier than deliberately reading a book, but what if a friend or relative of one of the cases discussed reads about it? I’m not saying that the book shouldn’t be written, or that the concerns of a couple of people should prevent sharing information that sheds light on this very important field, but I did think about it.
I’m also a bit frustrating with the Dr.’s constant reference to death by suicide as selfish. I cannot directly relate to her direct experience with death by suicide (her father’s), and she is certainly entitled to view her father’s decision as selfish, but that characterization always strikes me as reeking of victim blaming, and I found it especially off-putting when she projected her feelings about it onto others who died by suicide.
Even with those reservations, I do still strongly recommend this book for anyone looking for a surprisingly quick read on this topic that is both interesting and thorough.