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Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Written by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell

Narrated by Tanya Eby


Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner

Written by Judy Melinek, MD and T.J. Mitchell

Narrated by Tanya Eby

ratings:
4.5/5 (42 ratings)
Length:
7 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 12, 2014
ISBN:
9781494573898
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Editor's Note

Elicits fascination…

For CSI fans, biology buffs, or those curious about morgues, “Working Stiff” is the memoir for you. While death may be a macabre subject, Melinek handles it with all the polite curiosity and objective grace of a scientist.

Description

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 and their toddler holding down the home front, Judy threw herself into the fascinating world of death investigation-performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, and counseling grieving relatives. Working Stiff chronicles Judy's two years of training, taking listeners behind the police tape of some of the most harrowing deaths in the Big Apple.

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. 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 to reveal the secret story of the real morgue.
Publisher:
Released:
Aug 12, 2014
ISBN:
9781494573898
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook


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4.5
42 ratings / 26 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek, T.J. Mitchell, Tanya Eby (Narrator) is a terrific audio book I picked up from the library! Wow! I have been a RN all my life and now retired but those faint of heart may not be able to read this. It is a bit detailed at what a medical examiner really does for a living and not the TV version. I was fascinated and horrified at some of the things that came through, maybe not at the bodies but what people do to people or what people will do to get out of work. This only covers the time she is at New York but it is during that time that the World Trade Center is hit. The tragic and gruesome chapters there were jarring. This is a book I am glad I came across. None of the details of the work bothered me having seen so much in my life as a nurse but just want to warn those with stomachs weaker than mine to be warned. Great book, hope everyone that can read it, will. It is the audio version and the narrator was perfect for this book, spot on!
  • (4/5)
    So fun! This is the kind of Kim's Wheelhouse book that I love reading and telling people about despite the serious side eye I know will be coming my way.
  • (4/5)
    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.
  • (4/5)
    This book brought back a lot of memories from when I interned at a coroner's office. Good times! Because of my own quasi-experience in a Medical Examiner's shoes (at least, the tech helping the examiner out) I could relate to a lot that Judy covers. I almost wish I had read this book when I was interning. I learned a lot of things that could have helped me identify things, tips and tricks of the trade too. My biology background helped with the terminology so that the read was entertaining and fun, not a slog. Not that I'd recommend a book like this unless you have a particular interest in the subject. If you don't, or if you don't have a background in biology labs, morgues, coroner offices, etc. then this book will probably gross the hell out you. I found it interesting to read the parts about the 9/11 attack results. I don't always think of the coroner aftermath to big disasters like that, but it is such a big piece of the aftermath. A good memoir for those interested! I'm glad I got to it.
  • (5/5)
    For some reason, I am fascinated by medical memoirs. This one is kind of on the other end of medical...more in the morgue, but still an interesting look at the life of a medical examiner.Judy Melinek and her husband, T.J. Mitchell have chronicled her two years working as a New York City medical examiner. She discusses some of her most bizarre and intense deaths during that time, including murder scenes, drug overdoses, and accidents. Life in New York City is never dull and each day was full of surprises.I mostly listened to this on audio, narrated by Tanya Eby. I had both the Kindle and audible narration but found it was easier to listen to than to read. I will warn you that the material is quite graphic. Melinek does not hold back with her descriptions of the death scene or examination of the body. If you are at all squeamish, this book would NOT be for you. But, I found it easier to listen to the graphic descriptions rather than to read them. I did find myself cringing a bit while driving though at the descriptions. Eby's voice was easy to listen to and even found ways to change her voice for the various medical doctors and law enforcement that were on each scene. Eby was actually an Earphones Winner for her narration of WORKING STIFF.Melinek obviously meets the various people after their life has ended, but finds ways to bring each of them to life by offering various background information either through the police reports or conversations with family. Melinek's own father committed suicide and she spends several pages discussing that impact on her life and attending other suicides while on her job. She even found a way to offer support to one grieving family which, I'm sure, gave her a sense of comfort as well.The most difficult part of the book to listen to was her chapter discussing her work after 9/11. Even when I started the book and knew what year she was working in New York City, it never even occurred to me that she would be working on September 11, 2001. So, as she started describing her morning I realized the horror she was going to take the readers through on the following pages...and it was beyond horrific. I can't imagine what the first responders, fire department professionals, and law enforcement went through in the days, months, and years following 9/11. What they had to witness and go through was disastrous and life-changing. Listening to this section of the book actually caused me to pull my car over as I was crying too much to drive while listening. This part of the book has left quite an impact on me and will forever change how I view 9/11.What most impressed me about Melinek was that she was able to separate her work life from her home life. During these early years in her career, she was a wife and mother to a toddler and then pregnant again. After viewing the unimaginable every day, she seamlessly went home and led the role of wife and mother. I, on the other hand, would have had a difficult time separating the two. She talked about her day just like any other spouse would and then got on with the business of motherhood. She is a great example for working parents in stressful careers.
  • (5/5)
    This was an interesting look at forensic pathology that is layman friendly but pretty specific and accurate. I am a pediatric pathologist, a related but more hospital based subspecialty, so what I perceived and took away is probably different that most. As a fellow I did a rotation in the Dallas County ME suite and much of what I read resonated with my experience.
    Surprises-that she knew the importance of foot length in fetal pathology, that she used names of patients. I guess HIPPA laws do not apply to MEs. I was also surprised at the number of complete autopsies they did. Most ME I have known do more toxicology and external exam cases only.
    Not surprised- while most docs want to stay out of court the ME sure does not. There was essentially little to no discussion of histology. I would like to know what histology does on the decomp cases and how it may help. Also how do fellows finish cases when toxicology or other studies may not be done till after the fellow is gone
    Clearly Dr. Hirsch is a giant in forensics and he casts a big shadow. in a large way most doctors are products of our training. This is obvious in this book.
    All in all a very interesting look at forensic pathology with some insight into the 9/11 tragedy from an insider.
  • (5/5)
    Loved this book! A fascinating insight into the life of a medical examiner. She was involved in the 9/11 identification of remains and the airline crash in a ny neighborhood. Really intriguing. Don't know how they do it!
  • (4/5)
    This is the story of how Judy Melinek became a medical examiner and her experiences working in the OCME (office of the chief medical examiner) in Manhattan. Along with the usual stories of bizarre cases, Melinek talks about dealing with the families of the deceased and the frustrations of trying to get overworked detectives in the NYPD to pursue the cases she called homicides. This would be just an enjoyable book about an interesting profession had Melinek not been partway through her training on September 11, 2001. Located in lower Manhattan, the building she worked in became the central area for the processing of all the remains found in the wreckage of the twin towers. Her account of that experience made this book more substantial and much more difficult to read.
  • (3/5)
    I enjoyed this depiction of the author's residency as a medical examiner in New York City, although it did tend a little bit into the gruesome end of things more than once. And somehow I never put together the dates and was completely surprised by the chapter dealing with the fallout of the September 11 attacks, which was brutally hard to read.
  • (3/5)
    Started off in normal people speak, with some funny twists on phrases. Became less so and the events became hohum, even the WTC disaster.
  • (5/5)
    Excellent! I really enjoyed this biography of Dr. Melinek's training. I have read a lot of books about both forensics and corpses, there is really nothing left to shock me. But Working Stiff is highly entertaining and interesting giving wonderful insight into both the medical profession itself, teaching circumstances and mostly the work that a medical examiner does. We also meet Melinek's coworkers and learn much about different specialty sidelines in anthropological forensics: the bone experts, the brain experts, etc. I also enjoyed the way Dr. Melinek described how the ME's office truly works with law enforcement and when necessary the court system, giving TV viewers a much more accurate take on the relationship. Dr. Melinek wrote this book along with her stay-at-home husband (Harvard degree in English) and the interwoven story of a marriage where the woman is the bread-winner was also encouraging. They have a great storyteller's voice and I hope they colaborate on Dr. Judy's further adventures in forensics.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed these books. So many books about law/police work/etc. stress that it isn't like you see it on TV - but don't actually say what it is like. I enjoyed Dr. Melinek's stories of her two years in the Office of the Medical Examiner - both in forensic pathology and her second year rotation. That it takes months for tox screens and how hard it can be to establish cause and manner of death was insightful. It has to be hard to have so many of the facts yet not be able to put it all together. Also the parents of those killed for whom she doesn't have an answer.I found myself attached to Dr. Hirsch even before he used his 9/11 wounds as a teaching moment. What a humanization of 9/11 and the people involved. I felt for her friend who reported to a hospital to wait to treat the injured-and none came.I also enjoyed the side stories: how her career changed from surgery as well as how her career affected her family. Autopsies over dinner: no thanks! A good, readable book on a topic not often covered in memoirs.
  • (4/5)
    Very well written. If you wanted to know what it's like to be a medical examiner, this is it. Since she was working out of the NY medical office in 2001, she also worked on the 9/11 disaster.
  • (5/5)
    This was very well-written. The medical jargon was left out or explained so that the average person could understand the book.
  • (5/5)
    * Copy courtesy of NetGalley*Judy Melinek, M.D spent two years working and training as a Forensic Pathologist at the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and Working Stiff is her memoir of this period in her career.Melinek takes us through many real cases, including: accidents, murders, suicides, death from natural causes and more. She worked the sorting tables throughout the September 11 recovery and gives a touching yet harrowing account of the process of finding human remains, cataloguing them and returning them to family; anxiously awaiting news of their loved ones.Working Stiff reads like an intimate conversation with Melinek. Every time I had a question, she answered it, and it felt like she was telling me about her work as we passed the time on a long car trip. I thoroughly enjoyed it.Judy's husband T.J. Mitchell has an English degree from Harvard and is a stay-at-home Dad. Why he's listed as a co-author on Working Stiff is beyond me. Presumably Mitchell read and edited many drafts of Working Stiff for his wife while it was being written, but don't many partners and spouses do this? He even had his own acknowledgements, argh!!This was a minor sticking point though, and I thoroughly recommend Working Stiff - Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner to those who enjoy forensics and are genuinely interested in the work of Medical Examiners.Best memoir of the year for me!
  • (5/5)
    couldn't stop listening. book written with great details. Never thought about how the 9/11 world trade center victims were taken care of. inspired by the care it took to share the stories of these heroes.
  • (5/5)
    Terrifically written. The author keeps you right by her side during some challenging, sometimes horrific procedures and emotional strain. I appreciated the graphic descriptions she related during her work on 9/11. That event in our lives should never be forgotten and the feelings never tamped down for fear of upsetting a reader. It offered an insight as to what the professionals endured during the worst tragedy of our lifetime, excepting the current tragedy playing out in the last four years of the Trump administration and his intentional ignoring of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to improve his golf game and lie to the people of the world.
    This doctor turned author, along with her husband provide a window into a profession that many wonder about but few ever come to know about. Her honest, raw emotion is palpable in the pages of her life. It’s also very apparent that she dearly loves her family and her husband provided her a wonderful support structure so she could learn her trade. Kudos to them both.
  • (5/5)
    This book was difficult to listen to in places, but the author's writing style was a delight. I enjoyed the light informative tone.
  • (4/5)
    The book was a really well written. The narrator is too perky for the subject matter, though, and her “man voices” didn’t work for me.
  • (4/5)
    Really interesting book. Loved the enthusiastic addition of the fascination with the science, particularly in contrast with the TV drama phenomenon about forensic pathology. That perspective of 9/11 from the perspective of the ME's was excellent. Toward the end, it began to feel a bit redundant (I'm clearly only an armchair scientist), but overall, a really good read.
  • (5/5)
    This was an awesome book. The author is a great writer and gives a insightful, interesting and intelligent overview of her experiences entering the field of, and working in, forensic pathology. An easy to listen to, yet stimulating book filled with the right amount of intellect, factual storytelling and personal feeling. Outstanding, well narrated and highly recommended. What a tribute to her profession and early life. Everything an audiobook should be.
  • (4/5)
    Each body tells a story. This is the tale of a woman's decision to switch over from her residency as a surgeon to training as a medical examiner. You know CSI, Criminal Minds, the other CSI, Rizzoli and Isles, the other other CSI, etc.? Forget them. They fit almost as well into the fantasy genre as Game of Thrones or anything with werewolves or vampires. I grew up watching Quincy, M.E. I'm as fond of Jack Klugman from that show as I am of Oscar Madison. But I think it was mostly his fault that I was as shocked as I was – which was extremely – when I grew up a little and found out that doctors can't always diagnose illness or determine cause of death with certainty. Quincy and shows like it always made it seem like it was very basic puzzle–solving, like simple algebra: this symptom + another symptom – some other symptom = diagnosis; some were just more obscure than others, or perhaps there might be obscuring circumstances. Hey, I was young; I didn't quite have a handle on how vastly simplified the world is on the other side of the tv screen. It must be nice to live there, where the killer is always caught (in 48 minutes! Unless of course it's a featured serial killer who escapes and will be returning for the season finale) and the disease is always cured, or at least identified. Honestly, I remember being very confused and gobsmacked the first time I saw something that was, you know, real. On CSI, there is impatient sighing when they have to wait a few hours for DNA results. In reality, it's more like months. Whatever it was, it wasn't as real as this book. Turns out a tox screen can take a couple of weeks – and that shocked me. Need a copy of a report from another department? Give it a few months. It's been a little while since I bought this audiobook, so I don't remember whether the setting in time of the book had an impact on my decision to give it a try: Dr. Melinek changed her concentration from treating the living to examining the dead in 2001. She trained in New York City. If the idea that she was involved in the aftermath of 9/11 was one of the reasons I opted for the book, it was a moment of temporary insanity. To this day I flinch when a plane flies low. I live in Connecticut. I've visited NYC many times – and police and fire fighters from my area went to Ground Zero. I had friends and friends–of–friends who live and work in the City. I heard first–hand accounts, that weekend. It's emotional. Still. Of course. Between that and the basic subject matter, this book is not for the squeamish. But it's a story well told, with humor and compassion – and passion. Even while I was cringing, I enjoyed it.
  • (4/5)
    Two years in the life of a NYC medical examiner.

    “Don’t jaywalk. Wear your seat belt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of the car, and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you’re a smoker stop right now. If you aren’t, don’t start. Guns put holes in people. Drugs are bad…Staying alive is mostly common sense.”
  • (4/5)
    Although not for the faint of heart – nor faint of stomach – Working Stiff is a fascinating look at the world of medical examiners. Dr. Judy Melinek details both the everyday deaths that occur from illness, old age, accidents, and foul play, as well as the horrific deaths caused by terrorists in New York on September 11, 2001. I recommend this book.
  • (5/5)
    “Don’t jaywalk. Wear your seat belt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of the car, and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you’re a smoker stop right now. If you 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.”This is the advice of Judy Melinek, the author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, gleaned from her experience as an assistant medical examiner in New York City. From 2001 to 2003 Melinek performed hundreds of autopsies on the victims of homicides, suicides, accidents, natural diseases, therapeutic complications, and undetermined causes, that crossed her table.Melinek’s very first post mortem involved the death of a young man, a heroin addict diagnosed with sickle-cell trait who died in hospital, her second an elderly man who sustained severe burns in a house fire, the third a pregnant woman, the victim of a hit and run. In general, each chapter of Working Stiff groups together cases by manner of death, detailing Melinek’s examination of patients young and old, male and female, destitute and wealthy, and everything in between. The final chapters focus on the medical examiners office’s role in the wake of the Twin Towers collapse on September 11, and the crash of American Airlines flight 587.The narrative is very readable, almost conversational in tone, and mostly free of the medical jargon one might expect. Melinek is at all times respectful but not humourless, sharing both professional perspective and personal observations. I do feel compelled to warn the unwary reader that this isn’t a book for the squeamish with its graphic record of gruesome injury and detailed descriptions of the forensic autopsy process.What shines through is Melinek’s passion and commitment to her job as she works to investigate and determine the cause and manner of death, comfort the bereaved, provide assistance to the justice system and “speak for the dead”.Informative, entertaining and engaging Working Stiff is a fascinating account of the work of a medical examiner, well told by Judy Melinek and her husband T.J. Mitchell.* I gave the book an extra 1/2 star for Judy’s admission she wears “sensible shoes and a Medical Examiner windbreaker” during her rare visits to crime scenes – not six inch stiletto’s and Armani suits.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Fascinating! Melinek and her husband, T.J. Mitchell, also write well which makes for an extremely descriptive memoir about an aspect of life so few people see---or, for that matter, would want to see---much easier to read about it. Melinek manages to be funny as well as completely honest about her own feelings. Well worth reading.

    1 person found this helpful