Read Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek T.J. Mitchell Online


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. andThe 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 and Order to reveal the secret story of the real morgue....

Title : Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781476727271
Format Type : ebook
Number of Pages : 272 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

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

  • j e w e l s [Books Bejeweled]
    2019-02-12 11:03

    Dear Fiction Writers,If you are looking for story ideas, read this non-fiction book! It's chock full of interesting deaths and fascinating details on the science of the human body.I was gripped from the first page as Dr. Melinek begins her journey of training to be a medical examiner in New York City, 2001. She obviously found time (who knows how?!?!) to record in her daily journal for two years. Little did she realize she was about to play a crucial part as one of the investigators in America's greatest human tragedy. As a new trainee, she was thrown into 9/11 to sift through semi-truck trailers full of body parts, jet fuel and ash. She relates this horrific experience with humbleness and gratitude for the first responders. It is a sobering, deeply touching account for the reader. The 9/11 section is basically only one chapter of this terrific book. Mostly, the author relays the various stupid things humans do to themselves and each other that cause death. She has strong opinions against suicide (her own father hung himself when she was 13) and I found her candor on the subject profound and endearing. She never comes across as preachy.If you have the stomach for forensic science, I think you will love this book as much as I did. Truly one of the most compelling books I've read in awhile!

  • Miranda Reads
    2019-01-26 16:21

    Not for the faint of heartWhile I was on my 'people who work with dead-bodies' kick ( Stiff,Good Mourning), I stumbled upon this gem. This book wasn't as polished as Stiff nor was it as focused as Good Mourning but I certainly enjoyed listening to this. This one was able to give a fascinating medical examiner's perspective on the deceased.As described in the title, this book covers the bodies Judy Melinek tacked throughout her residency in a New York morgue. She starts with the natural causes, meanders through a few murders and a couple of heart-wrenching cases. All the while she keeps an upbeat tone. Gallows humor. But, about halfway through the book, all trace of that lightness disappears.9/11 happens and Judy Melinek is in the city. With no one else to turn to, she and the rest of the morgue team has the nearly unimaginable task of processing the twin towers bodies. She was completely overwhelmed and distraught and yet manages to hold her own despite the mountains of bodies in freezers for her to categorize and identify. I felt overwhelmed just reading this. I hadn't read the back of the book before reading this, so I was completely blindsided by the 9/11 tie-in. This is certainly a riveting read - though you may want to read it on an empty stomach if you are squeamish.

  • Petra X
    2019-02-18 12:15

    I am so enjoying this book. The author has this strangely cheery tone. She loves her job and the corpses and loves especially discussing really bad wounds and how the people (whom she generally addresses by their first names) got them. Very odd. Maybe this is how professional pathologists and other forensic professionals really are and they are just kind of serious and sad in front of us "civilians".

  • Montzalee Wittmann
    2019-01-28 11:21

    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!

  • Jim
    2019-02-23 11:25

    A very good book that's guaranteed to ruin CSI for you. (I quit watching years ago.) She does a great job describing what a busy city morgue is like. How she manages to wait for months for paperwork, deals with the crazed public, overworked police, & more just popped so realistically. A 'rush' on a tox screen meant only waiting a week, while a month wasn't unusual. She had to balance knowing part of the picture with releasing the body to relatives while accurately assessing the sort of death it was. Far too often, she only knows half the story & has to move on. Sometimes she comes in on the second half.Her statistics on suicides & attempts were interesting. IIRC, men manage to kill themselves 3 times as often as women, but women make 3 times as many attempts. They're just not very good at it, while guys seem to be good at it even when they don't mean to be. Yet more proof that the sexes are equal, but certainly not the same.How a death certificate is filled out & why was somewhat different than I thought. What constitutes accidental death, homicide, & medical misadventure was interesting. There were far fewer murders than I thought there would be, but some of the stories were pretty horrific. She does a good job describing what she could determine & what she couldn't. Fascinating.Her husband & co-writer T.J. Mitchell must be quite a guy. The chapter on her work during 9/11 & some of the stories she brought home would have had me hovering like a helicopter. I loved the way he supported her.She could certainly cuss like a sailor at times. Can't say as I blame her. Not a lot of it in the book, but she certainly didn't clean anything up for the squeamish. Her descriptions were accurate & sometimes quite grotesque. Probably not a good book to read during lunch.She dwells a bit too much on her father's suicide. While I learned quite a bit the first time she mentioned it, by the end of the book, I was pretty tired of hearing about it.Overall, very well read & a good book. It didn't seem all that long for all that it covered. Highly recommended.20150619 - I just had to add a link to a article: "We Light Your Scrotum On Fire: 6 Realities Of The Morgue" at your own risk. Cracked is generally accurate & nasty.

  • Debbie
    2019-02-01 15:21

    Can I just say OMG!I learned a lot about exactly what a forensic pathologist does, and let me just say again, OMG!Judy Melinek details every sort of disease and injury possible in a human body. Her account of her very worst case almost had me doubled over, but I was also fascinated. Hmm, not sure what this says about me!I've got to mention her account of 9/11 as she was one of the pathologists involved in trying to identify all the bodies. Her details and descriptions were more horrifying than anything I have ever read. Definitely not for the faint of heart, but truly captivating!

  • Greta
    2019-02-07 10:03

    A long time ago, I had to attend an autopsy for my work, concerning a case of a fatal accident. I wasn't glad with it, because the only time I saw a dead person up until then, was some 15 years earlier, when I was twelve. It was my nephew, of the same age, who had died in the bathroom after he fell while bathing and broke his neck. I still remember it clearly because we (my dad and I) had to wait in the hospital for about an hour and I was really nervous by the time we could visit him. I ran away in panic from the morgue in the hospital, horrified by the view of my dead nephew. They hadn't succeeded in closing his eyes properly, so one eye was closed and the other eye was still open. And it seemed like he was looking at me with this one, lifeless eye. So I left the room, shocked with this view. When I got in the corridor, there was a man whose half face and neck where covered with a horrible birthmark. At that particular moment, it scared the hell out of me. So that was my first experience with a dead person, and that really gave me a scare. I ended up sending a colleague from the office to attend the autopsy, because at the last moment I was too anxious to go myself. The only dead persons I saw later in my life were my parents, after they deceased in the hospital. I came across more cases where unnatural death was involved for my work, but reading about those deaths, and even looking at photographs, however horrific, didn't scare me very much because I was able to objectify all this gruesome stuff (and omit the worst details ;)Although I'm scared to death about death, I'm also attracted to it. After all, we all have to die. It's not a happy thought, for none of us, but we all hope we will die quietly, without pain and anxiety, in our own bed, while we're sleeping. Or just drop dead somewhere and die instantly, in a flash. Get it over and done with quickly. But that's not always the case. As a matter of fact, dying can be very traumatic. And probably few people know this better than a Medical Examiner. Hospital pathologists perform autopsies only on patients who have died of natural causes. A Medical Examiner investigates traumatic deaths, but also natural deaths when they are sudden or unexpected, and they perform autopsies in order to identify the cause of death (medical reason) and the manner of death, which can be natural, an accident, a homicide, a suicide, an overdose, a therapeutic complication, a medical negligence or of "undetermined etiology" (this translates as "fuck-if-I-know"). Judy Melinek, the author of this book, writes about her experiences during her 2-year fellowship as a forensic pathologist at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). She didn't start off wanting to be a forensic pathologist. She wanted to be a surgeon and heal people. But she quitted her surgery residency because she wasn't happy with the highly demanding training. She ended up loving her work as a pathologist, as she's happy to learn something new about the human body every day. But she also loves the non-medical aspects of the job ; the counseling of families, collaborating with detectives, testifying in court. She loves her task of performing the last and most thorough physical exam a person will ever have and figuring out what went wrong in the body. This love for her work shines through every page of this book. Her book is a dead honest testimony of her work. Each body tells a story, she says, and she shares these stories with us, readers. There's the miserable story of a man, freezing to death ;The story of a man rescued from a fire in his home, only to die three hours later ;The story of a pregnant woman who died after a hit-and-run car accident ; The story of a man with an eggshell skull fracture ;The sudden death of a schizophrenic woman ;A young man struck by lightning ; Stories of drug abuse ;A floater ;Several homicides ;Several suicides ;A case of anthrax poisoning ; Unsettling stories of the handling of the remains from the 9/11 victims ;A couple of cases of death as a result of medical or surgical intervention and a case of medical screwup. These stories are engagingly told and are sometimes really witty, for instance the case of the "cable guy"(view spoiler)[This guy had been smoking crystal meth and took his two dogs on a walk. When he returned, he found he had locked himself out of his ninth-floor apartment. Instead of calling a locksmith, he formulated a plan. He tied the dogs to the doorknob, went up to the roof, and pried open the television cable distribution box. Then he unplugged a coaxial cable and tied it around his chest. He then stepped over to the edge of the roof and began to lower himself down, to his open apartment window. The coaxial cable broke under his weight, and he fell eight stories and landed on the sidewalk. That was really a bad plan :) (hide spoiler)] sometimes heartbreaking, but always captivating. It's a very unique and personal book, and I highly recommend it. 8/10

  • Eva
    2019-02-07 14:08

    3.5 stars. The memoirs of a forensic pathologist during the years of her fellowship, which placed her in NYC during the September 11 terrorist attack, helping to tag, bag, and attempt to identify the remains of victims from the WTC (as well as seeing an anthrax victim, and helping autopsy victims of a infamous plane crash.) It was co-written by her husband, who has an English degree from Harvard (more about that later).Disclaimer: I am a medical doctor, but I am a geriatric psychiatrist. I had to attend autopsies as part of my medical school curriculum, and since we get all the questionable deaths in the state of New Mexico at our Office of the Medical Investigator, I had the privilege of seeing 1 natural death, 3 homicides, and 3 suicides, including one "decomp", on the day I was there. I also was informed there was a bag of bones someone had found in a barn they thought might be human, and attended a brain cutting where the brain of a 22 week gestation fetus was sliced, as well as a man who had a fungal infection that was easily visible in many of the slices. So, I have some context for picturing the stuff she's talking about in this book. (Although she talks about how respectful they are with the deceased's testicles....that must vary from location to location, since in one of the suicides I saw that was clearly a gun shot wound to the head, the pathologist still removed both testicles and sliced them up completely. Anyway. Minor point.)To end the disclaimer, I thought autopsies were pretty disgusting. I respect what forensic pathologists do, but I have no illusions about the nitty-gritty of autopsies. That said, I thought she did a great job describing for the lay person what an autopsy is like, what the point of it is, the legal implications of the death determination, etc. And she certainly had a lot of fascinating cases and unusual experiences. The book is very readable and, if you're OK with icky, often quite entertaining and thought-provoking.My critcisms of the book are basically two- first, that it really does read as if it were written by two people, yet always in the first person singular, which made it feel kind of awkwardly constructed to me. It's always the author speaking, but it feels like she would write up an interesting case she saw, then her husband would come behind and add the finishing English major touches to take it from being too much physician speak and more accessible to the general reader. "Ummm, hon, that part was great, but we're kind of going to alienate the readers if we don't throw in a warm, humanistic anecdote right about now to soften the part about the maggots eating the guy's eyeballs." I can't be sure that's how it was or how much of the writing and editing he did, but based on the different tones of certain sections of the book, I get the feeling he did a lot of work- I mean, he's essentially listed as a coauthor. Secondly, the author is certainly more than entitled to personal feelings and reactions to all of the experiences she had. However, she herself goes to great pains to emphasize the necessity of objectivity when speaking as a physician, and not rushing to judgment. As a physician who works with mentally ill patients, I want to emphasize that it is *not* the consensus of the medical community that people who commit suicide are selfish, which the author states she believes over and over again. I understand that she feels that way ("It's a goddamned selfish act, suicide, if you ask me" "He was sober. I couldn't blame drugs. I could only and still blame [her father]") and as I said, she is entitled to her feelings, including anger toward her father.I just wish that when writing this book, she had gone to greater lengths to separate out her feelings about the suicide of her father as an individual from her knowledge about mental illness as a physician and scientist. There is a lot of research on suicide out there, and a lot of correlations between certain risk factors and completed or attempted suicides, and I have never seen any studies correlating levels of selfishness with suicidality (not really sure how you'd conduct such a study, but I digress). I'll just stop there because this is not the forum for reviewing the latest research into the causes and prevention of suicide, but suffice it to say that judging and shaming people who are having suicidal ideation by telling them how "selfish" they are is unlikely to prevent a single person suffering from depression from killing themselves.I mean, she passes harsher judgment upon people- especially fathers of teenage girls- who commit suicide than she does on a woman who murders her 4 year old, drug traders who torture someone and garrot them, or terrorists who commit mass murder or mail anthrax to innocent people. The lashing out against suicides was the antithesis of the objective, accepting tone of the rest of the book, and it was pretty jarring. You can try to empathize with a child abuser or crack addict, but no mercy for suicidal people? Ouch.Overall a decently written and engaging book for any reader interested in the topic.

  • Rebecca Foster
    2019-02-14 12:18

    If you, like me, have a morbid fascination with the mechanics and aftermath of death (see The Removers by Andrew Meredith), you should love this book. Melinek is a forensic pathologist whose father committed suicide – perhaps an early source of her obsession with dead bodies. An exchange with her husband (co-writer T.J. Mitchell) early on gives a flavor of her macabre tone: “‘We even call it an “eggshell skull fracture.” Isn’t that cool?’ ‘No,’ T.J. replied, suddenly ashen. ‘No, it isn’t.’ I’m not a ghoulish person. I’m a guileless, sunny optimist, in fact.”Over her two years with New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 2000-2002, Melinek performed 262 autopsies, 27 of them on homicides. Regarding bullet wounds, she writes: “Fishing around inside a dead guy for a little chunk of jagged metal that can cut right through my gloves and skin is one workplace challenge I wish I didn’t face.” The Worst Way to Die that she ever observed (because people do persist in asking her the question) was a guy thrown down a manhole – he basically steamed alive; his organs and blood vessels all cooked solid, like sausage meat.Most notably, Melinek spent eight months identifying 9/11 remains at NYC tent stations. Passersby wouldn’t have known that those lines of trailers all held bodies – or, rather, partial bodies: “Truck One held whole bodies; Truck Two, bodies that were not complete; Truck Three, body parts; and Truck Four held fragments.” She also had one case towards the beginning of the anthrax outbreak.Only once did my curiosity shade into disgust, and that was with this passage on household pets: “Your faithful golden retriever might sit next to your dead body for days, starving, but the tabby won’t. Your pet cat will eat you right away, with no qualms at all. Like any opportunistic scavenger, it will start with your eyeballs and lips. I’ve seen the result.” I certainly had cause to look askance at my cat after that.Many people’s interest will have been piqued by forensics dramas on TV, but bear in mind that this is more House than CSI: blackly humorous writing about the human body, including some medical whodunits. “Mine is a gruesome job, but for a scientist with a love for the mechanics of the human body, a great one.” Melinek largely avoids jargon and doctor-speak, making this a very reader-friendly, enjoyable memoir.In the end, I was left with just two questions: How much did her stay-at-home dad husband contribute? And why did she wait so long before publishing this book? The 2001 material is intriguing, but starts to seem dated. (Perhaps she waited over a decade to let the pain of 9/11 become less raw?) In any case, better late than never.

  • Carol
    2019-02-08 18:16

    If you want a GREAT Halloween read, what better place to start than in a spooky smelly morgue with dead bodies everywhere. Forensic Pathologists study the causes and effects of human diseases and injury in this UNPUTDOWNABLE non-fiction novel that I found extremely interesting, informative and, at times, SCARY AS HELL! It had me thinking about what I put in my body for sustenance, checking out the whites of my eyes and worrying about occasional slightly swollen ankles.Be forewarned this book is not for those with a weak constitution as there are very graphic descriptions of numerous autopsies and real life accident and murder scenes.....some that will break your heart, and others (view spoiler)[like maggots scurrying about under the clothes of dead bodies (hide spoiler)] that will give you the creeps; AND if you want to know the worst way to die a pathologist has ever seen, it too will be described here. (view spoiler)[(oh the poor young man who was steamed alive like a lobster) (hide spoiler)]Some explanations of the mechanics of the human body are truly remarkable, and the clues pathologists find hidden in a cadaver are quite amazing, but (being a cat lover and owner) there is one comparison I will NEVER EVER forget.....(view spoiler)[ a faithful dog might lovingly lay by its master's side and starve itself while you lay dead, but a cat, being a scavenger, will eat you right away starting with your eyeballs and lips with no qualms at all! Ewwwww!>(I plan to have a chat with Maggie the cat) (hide spoiler)]After reading this well-written and enlightening novel, I have a new respect for Pathologists everywhere as I have always wondered why and how they can deal with cadavers day after day, and that answer is here help the living.......and, last but not least, I must end by saying that the portion of this book relating to the treatment of the victims of 9-11 was pretty hard to take, but written in a respectful and heartfelt manner. (as was the entire book)Highly recommend this fascinating debut, and hope to see more from this author(s).

  • Rita Meade
    2019-01-27 17:24

    DNF. Had to stop reading early on after the author made the following statement regarding a cancer patient who took his own life: "He had also left a suicide note to his wife, telling her she shouldn't have to nurse him through another course of chemo. But suicide is a selfish act, and he wasn't really thinking about her." I know the author was writing from a place still affected by the experience with her own father (she wrote about him on pg. 37: "He was probably thinking, as my first suicide case was probably thinking, 'She'll be better off without me.' But no. That perspective is self-absorbed and misguided.") I truly sympathize, but I also found it both misinformed and downright irresponsible for a medical professional to put forth statements like that as fact without even considering additional background information. Just couldn't read the rest.

  • Erica
    2019-02-24 12:01

    Oh my gosh, I enjoyed this to bits.But first, I must relate my story regarding this book. I'm going to put it under a spoiler tag in case you want to skip it. It's long. As are most of my boring stories.(view spoiler)[Once upon a time in early fall of 2015, I was in the staff break room, breaking. As one does. Someone was talking about Caitlin Doughty's book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, which I had just started as my Lunchtime Reading Book (meaning I try to read it during lunch but I never succeed unless I go to my car to reatd (that's read and eat combined) because I always wind up talking to someone) and I was able to go all fangirl over Caitlin, whose Order of the Good Death I've been following since Mom was all, "I have cancer and am DYING!" (only, she's still not dead, so...I question the veracity of her statement) and I wanted to prepare myself for what was coming (which was never-ending dying, as it turns out) One of the other conversers said, "Oh! Have you read Working Stiff?" and I said, "I have not!" and she said, "You should. You'd love it" and I said, "Ok, I will!" and I did.But here's the twist: I'd promised the people to whom I'd gushed that I would email them links to the many social sites of Caitlin Doughty. Upon retrieving said links, I found I wasn't following her on Twitter, which is weird since I follow her everywhere else, but whatever. I hit that Follow button and all was well. Then, I sent the email full of links, patted myself on the back for a job well-done, and hopped over to the library catalog to request a copy of this book (Working Stiff, in case you've forgotten what I'm talking about)Later in the day, I went back over to Twitter and saw a notification that said that Judy Melinek was following me and I thought, "That name sounds VEEERRRY familiar" Yeah, it's cuz she's the author of this book and when I figured that out, I messaged her in order to say (essentially) "WHY ARE YOU STALKING ME?" because, seriously, what are the odds I'd put an author's book on hold at my library - and there's no way she could know that because it's a closed system - and then she follows me hours later on Twitter? What was happening?She pretty much said, "Well, crazy lady (she didn't call me a crazy lady, she's much nicer than that. I'm just paraphrasing for her), you followed Caitlin Doughty earlier today and I often follow people who follow her because of shared interests. Obviously. You are so paranoid." (Again, paraphrasing. She said nothing of the sort. I don't even think she thought I was crazy and paranoid at all because a wonderful conversation ensued and now I love this woman)So, technically, I met the author before I read this book.That didn't change my feelings toward the book, though, because as my co-worker surmised, this thing is right up my alley. For the record, that co-worker was the one who practically forced me to read Station Eleven (no force was involved whatsoever); she knows what I like.SO! My thoughts on the actual content of this actual book! (hide spoiler)]I don't remember my specific thoughts. I know I wrote notes but I can't find them. Frustrating.However, I do know that I often took the loooong way home during this period so that I could listen longer to the CD.I know that it made me feel more aware while driving because of all the stories of How They Died and I didn't want to be a traffic accident story (by the by, the co-author of this book is Judy's husband and he, too, is delightful, as I found while tweeting about this book)(I'm a braggart, aren't I?)I was fascinated by her trajectory into forensic pathology and a medical examiner career and even more intrigued by the cases that made an impact on her worldview/knowledge/compassion/etc.I will say, though, I had a hard time listening to her involvement with identifying and caring for the remains recovered from the World Trade Center terror site. I've never been able to entirely process that day and its aftermath and I wasn't even there nor did I personally know anyone involved. Still, it's a difficult topic for me so I was overly sensitive for that entire part of the story. I'm not saying it's bad. I'm not saying it's poorly-written. Neither of those statements would be true. I'm saying I personally had a hard time coping with that information. Regardless, I wanted to hug Dr. Melinek's face off the whole time because what a big, important, hard thing to do every single day for days on end. See? I can't even express what I'm feeling now and I listened to this two months ago. Moving on.This wife/husband author team strike a beautiful balance, artistically. The stories are real, but they're not overly-technical, there's not a lot of med-speak that will confuse and bewilder (and bore) the common reader. The writing is compassionate but often amusing and all in a conversational tone. It reads like an autobiography but it doesn't drag and it doesn't focus so much on the author, more on her experiences and why things happen the way they do. It's accessible, it's interesting, and it discusses something that's still somewhat taboo in our culture but something that needs to be discussed nonetheless and it does so with grace, humor, and charm, namely: death and the bodies it leaves behind.I strongly recommend this to people who like reading about death OR who are scared of death, as well as people who like medical dramas or true crime stories, those who enjoy biographies...actually, pretty much anyone who isn't looking for a ghoulish, overly-jargonized, super-in-depth medical memoir/texbook because it's none of those things.

  • Kaora
    2019-01-25 13:02

    I read this as part of my 2015 goal to read more non-fiction books.I think I am off to a great start!Judy Melinek is a medical examiner in training after she drops out of her surgery residency after collapsing during one of her 130 hour workweeks. She uproots her family and moves to New York, beginning her training two months before September 11th.Nobody cares about when you're alive, but lots of people take interest when you are dead.I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. I expected some good advice.Don't jaywalk. Use your seatbelt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of your car and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you are a smoker, stop right now. Guns put holes in people.I also expected to be scared A LOT by the various ways you could suddenly wind up on an autopsy table. And while she does touch on one of the worst ways in her opinion to die, most of her encounters with the dead were easily avoidable.Staying alive, as it turns out, is mostly common sense.And I expected to learn some fascinating and disgusting things about the human body. Like how hairless shins with a variety of other things is a symptom of heart failure.But all expectations aside hearing the struggle of balancing being a mother, a wife and a woman who deals with death daily quickly made this an engrossing read. It isn't all about the bodies. It is also about the woman behind the bodies. Holding the scalpel.However the chapter on being a pathologist in New York during the events of September 11, 2001 was probably the toughest part of this book to read and ultimately the most powerful. I'd recommend this for that part alone. You didn't hear a lot about the medical examiners after the events, but ultimately they gave a lot of relief to a lot of families.I am just glad I didn't read this before my son's "minor surgery". Or I would have been a wreck.Minor surgery is surgery someone else has.

  • Figgy
    2019-01-25 15:12

    Featured on my 2014 favourites list!Actual Rating 4.5I like reading a wide variety of books. Fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, young adult, biographies, science, history... You name it!But there’s no denying that some are a lot easier to read than others. While I love reading about people’s lives and absorbing facts, I’d be kidding myself if I thought those books took the same amount of time or effort as a well written novel. No matter how well written said non-fiction book is in and of itself. Working Stiff was different. It could be the fact that I always wanted to get into forensics, or my own morbid fascination with the things people do to one another. It could be that it was written in a way that is accessible to the layperson, and that the grouping similar manners of death led to fewer chapters and a very smooth read. Whatever the cause, I devoured this book!The rest of this review can be found here!

  • Mariah
    2019-02-01 18:29

    I read this book for the local My Favorite Murder Book Club and loved it. Its about a rookie forensic pathologist.Judy joined the world of death investigation, performing autopsies, investigating death scenes, and counseling grieving relatives. This book chronicles Judy's training. She shared her firsthand account of the events of September 11 and the crash of American Airlines flight 587.This was a super interesting book! I learned so much information on positions that I wasn't very educated on.

  • Wendy
    2019-02-23 10:09

    Utterly Fascinating!"Working Stiff" is the memoir of Judy Melinek, M.D. who spent two years training and working as a Forensic Pathologist at the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Her job is to determine cause of death and she discusses many of her cases, including murders, suicides, accidents, natural death and more.She was part of the 9/11 recovery team and gives a heart-rending account of the process of finding human remains, categorizing them and returning confirmation to the families anxiously awaiting news of their loved one.If you are curious, like me, and can handle blood, guts and carnage then this extremely informative and captivating book is not to be missed.

  • L.A. Starks
    2019-02-19 18:11

    Dr. Melinek and her husband, T.J. Mitchell, have written a superb book about Dr. Melinek's experience as a forensic pathologist in NYC. She discusses the horrible and hectic time right after 9-11 and gives experienced insight into the many cases--including similarities and differences--on which she's worked. This book is a valuable reference that contains many movingly true stories.

  • Kelly
    2019-01-30 17:21

    Once I became an eyewitness to death, I found that nearly every unexpected fatality I investigated was either the result of something dangerously mundane, or of something predictably hazardous. So don't jaywalk...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. Judy MelinekAfter reading this book I really wish I had become a medical examiner...weird I know ;-) It was fascinating. The one thing that would probably make me quit that job though would be the smell of a decomposing body...It hits you--an assault, not a scent. You flinch, heave back in revulsion. It invades your throat, assails your taste buds, even stings your eyes.The maggot talk just validated my wish to be immediately sealed in a metal drawer in a mausoleum after I die. I also knew there had to be a reason I'm allergic to cats...they will eat you immediately after you die. Whereas dogs will just stay by you for days on end. The last quarter of this book was completely spellbinding, in my opinion. She was a NYC Medical Examiner on 9/11. She heard and saw that low flying jetliner when she was hurrying to work that morning. It is even more horrific through her eyes than what I heard and saw on the news. She tagged body pieces (and the descriptions of their condition were awful)...many refrigerated tractor trailers' worth of body parts, a small number of intact bodies.The limbs had all been amputated. The torso was transected below the navel. The remains were entirely black--burned and covered in soot. The head...the head wasn't recognizable as a head, except that it had hair and was attached to the neck. The smell of jet fuel was so strong it made me dizzy. I could tell just by looking at the open body bag that this person had been mashed, burned, dropped from a height, and slashed by sharp forces. I had seen people killed by subway trains and speeding cars, run over by trucks, crushed by industrial equipment, fallen from great heights, burned, and battered--but never all at the same time.I examined the surface of the leg--and came across something that made me stare. Fragments of a personal bank check, complete with routing number and a partially legible name, were embedded under the skin, buried deep in the muscle X-ray had revealed a woman's severed hand, complete with wedding ring, entirely embedded inside the chest wall of a man's intact torso.This quote from the Chief Medical Examiner at the time is haunting: People were jumping or falling from the buildings. They seemed to take forever to fall, tumbling through the air. They would hit the pavement with a loud thud--very loud--and bounce, and land again. The sounds of the bodies hitting the ground echoed off the buildings, one after another, over and over. I've added some great quotes from this book...hopefully they will show below this review.

  • Cathryn
    2019-02-12 13:01

    While I was reading this book I kept walking around my house saying "This is fascinating." to the point that I started the sentence and my daughter finished it. I don't read much non-fiction but I have a fascination with death and what happens to your body after you die. That's why I picked this up. Maybe it's because we don't really talk about it as a society. It's too taboo or gross or a combination of both I don't know.This book covers the first year of Dr. Melinek's fellowship in NYC as a medical examiner. She doesn't go through all 262 cases but picks highlights to show was is involved in the different types of death. She does a really good job of breaking down all the medical jargon into laymen's terms without sounding condescending. Part of an MEs training is to learn how to do that since they deal with grieving family members. Each case is its own little story and I was surprised at how much detective work an ME actually does. If there is no criminal homicide for the police to investigate (and only about 30% of autopsy cases are criminal in nature) it is up to the ME to piece together what happened and not just physically. They have to understand the circumstances surrounding the death and that involves some legwork.The final section of the book is about 9/11. Melinek was only 9 weeks into her fellowship when this happened. I've heard a lot of stories about the brave work of the firefighters and police on that day but I haven't heard anything about the MEs. The only medical stories I've heard were about all the doctors and nurses waiting at the hospitals for the wounded to come in and how devastated they were when only a fraction of the number expected showed up. Now imagine what all the MEs had to go through. It was heartbreaking and interesting at the same time. They were able to identify approximately half of those that died that day. Considering what they had to work with it's pretty amazing.If you have any interest in this area I highly recommend picking up this book.

  • Jeanette
    2019-02-06 11:22

    Is this non-fiction recital of two years' cases of performing NYC autopsies for the Coroner's designations perfect? Of course not. But it is blunt, honest, and Judy Melinek also resists all the usual Doctor syndrome aspects of hiding a personality, bias, feelings of an individual- behind the badge and highly authoritarian onus of the M.D. that is behind her name.Rarely am I tempted to do a synopsis, rather than a reaction. For this one I am sorely tempted to tell you far more than just my take. Some of these chapters are absolutely unique in SPECIFIC information. Stated too within medical and official jargon, and then often translated for her layman's tale. She tells us what she sees. She tells us what her job is. It is not what many TV shows or court room scenes leave you to believe it is. She is not a lawyer, or a Homicide Detective. Although she constantly detects and she does appear in court on some occasions. Her onus first and foremost is to put one of six things on a legal and official death certificate. NYC has six categories only, and the full explanation is terse, as well. Some states or countries have 5 or 7. It often takes months to fill that one line.They are: Suicide, Homicide, Disease, Accident, Medical Complication/Interaction, or Undecided/Undetermined. That's it. Before the book is finished, you will read of some few cases that are being determined over months of time between THREE of these categories. Determination between not just two, but three, all strong possibilities before the final decision is put on the Death Certificate line. And often times grand jury or some other jurisdiction is waiting for that line to be printed. Because timing of demise, situations of opposing or serendipity causes, and physical proofs may oppose themselves in category or clues when their origin or sequential consequence order is unknown. When she finds a real zebra amongst the horses, she proclaims "Isn't that cool!" and tells you why. Many readers may not parse with her interjections. Or become highly offended. But reading what these hours include, as far as I am concerned she can say anything she wants to, and in any mood or tone at that. This job has been rather glorified on TV. And you hear lots of details about body parts or descriptions of the testing done on them, but none are in the degree that you hear about here in this book. If you don't care for the medical and intense detail, this survey is not for you.She was working during 9/11, fairly new in fact. She leaves that portion of her time in NYC for nearer to the end of the book. There are good reasons for it. I knew with my head and my heart, but I didn't REALLY know. You know after reading her sorting lines, blocks of refrigerated trucks. She also had near the end of her stint, a 250 plus person air crash (all fatal plus 5 more on the ground). By comparing those two events' autopsy results, you understand what is missing in one and not the other.She covers too, not only the exact issues and context of her own health and life that with some serendipity switched her surgeon's role into one that was more conducive to sleeping and a family life. But also the special sense she has of solving hard problems that are often quite different or original biology. If a doctor is dead tired, fainting sick and not able to remain standing for 40 hours straight, there is always a better way to practice. And "The patient will still be dead tomorrow, and they don't mind waiting." Others warn readers who may have queasy stomachs. I would warn far more to those who want a PC formula "nice-nice" emotive condolence for life's meanest and grimmest occasions. This is not a lady who seeks to condole first. She often surmounts to do just that visceral connection and much more. But she is not phony in calling a situation what it is NOT in order to help grievers rationalize a cozier self acceptance. Many might well be offended. To me it was absolutely refreshing. And also most highly trustworthy for ACTUAL good intent and concern, at that. Give me a Doctor like this rather than one who mouths all the platitudes.She is the daughter of a brilliant doctor who was a suicide at 38. Those suicide cases she reviews were worth the reading of this book alone. Because I have been one of those people who have witnessed the exact kinds of events she details. The train jump, the building jump. I never go to a place of open balconies or 20 floor atriums without thinking about it. People like myself who have seen them are forever affected. Affect, as in feelings. You can't erase it. It doesn't look like the movies or chewy horror film special effects. That's usually because it hits all kinds of things on the way down for one thing. Almost always, it is not all there. You will learn why 7 bullet holes require different tracking methods and why one or two is so much easier. And why nearly the first rule right now in autopsy is taking off all the piercing and attached decoration, noting scars, tattoos in great detail, sometimes with drawings. This book taught me more about how a corpse could reveal as completely bloodless (rare occurrence with a certain instant velocity death- the bone marrow absorbs all the blood), how a blood transfusion can cause an antibody crisis/ fatal reaction (blood hook up transfer starts- bad back pain instantly- yell like hell)and several other exact factual context situations that I had never read upon any detail before this book. She doesn't cut out the depth either for their "solving" situation. Anyone who is depressed, lives in a city, drives a car, thinks suicide is a way to make things easier for the survivors, or is going to die. All of those people should read this book. TACEANT COLLOQUIA. EFFUGIAT RISUS. HIC LOCUS EST UBI MORS GAUDET SUCCURRERE VITAE."Let conversation cease. Let Laughter flee. This is the place where Death delights to help the living."

  • Rebecca McNutt
    2019-02-12 14:06

    Working Stiff has morbid written all over it, but actually it surprised me. It's a graphic yet tasteful and respectful memoir of a New York medical examiner's grisly career and how she coped with it over time, as well as how her work helped grieving families and friends find closure.

  • Sonja Arlow
    2019-02-21 17:22

    ‘Let conversation cease. Let laughter flee. This is the place where Death delights to help the living.’I am completely, over the top, irrationally fond of books about medicine and/or the macabre and apparently have the extremely annoying habit of sharing choice trivia I pick up in these books, to the horror of my friends (so those of you that I see offline, brace yourselves for some really gruesome tidbits)This book takes the form of memoir, forensic crime investigation, pathology and weird-shit-people-die-from stories. The author seems to be quite an optimistic ray of sunshine in an industry that leans towards the dark and depressing. She conveys the stories at times with humor, at times with sadness but always with compassion and respect.“People ask me all the time, “What’s the worst way to die you’ve ever seen?” I assure them, “You don’t want to know.” She was right. I should not have wanted to know. All I can say is I will never eat lobster again, EVER.She is frank and outspoken about suicide and whether I agree with her views or not, I could sympathize with her. Having lived through her own fathers suicide at the age of 13 it clearly left scars still visible in her adult life.I heard about this author from a GR friend’s review and also knew beforehand that she was most famous for the 8 months she provided medical support in the 9/11 aftermath. What I did not expect was how much of an emotional read Chapter 10 would be for me. I have the utmost respect for each and every person who was involved in the First Responder teams and everyone else that assisted them. Every doctor has to cultivate compassion, to learn it and then practice it. To confront death every day, to see it for yourself, you have to love the living. Would I recommend this? YES absolutely, but then again I have an extreme bias towards books like this so perhaps my judgment cannot be trusted. Oh and a word of warning, if you are overly sensitive or have a weak stomach perhaps this book is not for you.

  • Alissa Patrick
    2019-02-14 13:03

    I really loved this book. This is a non-fiction account of a woman's 2 year stint as a New York Medical Examiner, a profession I always found fascinating even though it gives me the heebie jeebies. The stories are of course gross at times (doing the autopsy of a construction worker who had a beam fall on his head). Sometimes the stats are informative and funny (if you die alone with your pet, the dog will lay by your body in mourning.... your cat? Will start eating you that day)I was enjoying this read as a light-hearted read (as much as the content would allow of course)... until I got to the 9/11 chapters. It didn't even occur to me as I was reading what year she had started being an ME, and then suddenly she started a chapter with September 11, 2001, and I went "oh. crap"The last part of the book was really hard for me. I put it down several times because I nearly cried. I still relive that day so vividly and reading her account of that awful morning- then the task she had of trying to identify only body parts or small pieces of DNA just killed me. I obviously knew the carnage of that day but it just never occurred to me that they barely pulled bodies out of the World Trade Center, it was particles of people. Of the thousands of people killed, only 291 bodies in tact were found. There are still over 1,000 people who never had remains found. These chapters were just terrible and I found myself tearing up. If you're a fan of CSI, Law and Order, etc those type of shows I highly recommend this book.

  • Shaun
    2019-01-25 11:23

    This book is a collaboration between Judy Melinek and her husband T.J. Mitchell. Together they describe Judy's time training in forensic pathology at NYC Medical Examiner's Office. So if you've ever wondered what it's like to be a real forensic pathologist, here's your chance.Perhaps most notably, Melinek was in NYC during the Sept 11th attacks and was thus part of the grueling identification process, which often depended on DNA extracted from lone teeth as a means of identification. Her description of that process is nothing short of sobering. I'd never really thought much about the condition of the bodies. Interesting read and competently written.

  • Suzanne
    2019-02-14 15:22

    It takes a strong person to be a forensic pathologist, and I was really fascinated to learn a bit more about what the job entails. The author describes things with compassion, and gives a good overview of various aspects of the job. Especially sobering was the work done after 9/11. Wow - I thought I had some ideas of what happened, but I never comprehended how truly horrible the aftermath was. I have even more respect for all of the heroes that kept working and dealing with all of that, as well as those who died. Anyway, it was a good book and well worth reading.

  • Sarah
    2019-02-08 17:14

    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.PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge: A Memoir

  • Carol -Reading Writing and Riesling
    2019-01-31 17:15

    4 1/2 starsMy View:“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.”This is intriguing story, told in a personable and conversational way, with black humour, personal insights, some interesting characters and plenty of passion. You can feel this doctor’s affinity for her role and the pride she has for revealing the cause of death, particularly in homicide cases where she “speaks on behalf of the dead.” This narrative is told with honesty that sometimes catches you unaware, particularly when the author discusses suicides and neonatal and child deaths; so sad. The life of an Medical Examiner is dissected and probed and all is revealed; the ugliness of death, the stench, the maggots, the sloughing skin, the reek of alcohol, the worry of infection but all is told is a calm and meaning full manner – this is not “voyeur of the dead” material, this is life (because death also affects the living), death and some deaths are good deaths and some… you really should not ask about.Throughout this narrative the authors’ voices carry you on a journey, you walk side by side with the rookie M.E and take lessons with her, then suddenly the world changes, the tone changes and it is chilling. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Centre towers and other threats shake up the world and have a very personal direct impact on Dr Melinek; she sees firsthand the destruction and violation of life. This section of the book is…overwhelmingly sad and horrific, the work of the first responders and the medical staff tasked with identifying the human remains is a mammoth and heartbreakingly poignant. All involved in the rescue and recovery deserve our thanks.This is truly a remarkable book told with respect and passion.

  • Jean Poulos
    2019-02-23 18:23

    This is a memoir of a forensic pathologist. After medical school Dr. Melinek started a residency program to be a surgeon. She took time off from work to have a baby and decided to change her specialty and become a pathologist. She attended UCLA for her pathology and forensic training and was accepted at the NYC Medical Examiner’s Office for her one-year forensic residency training program. After she completed the program she stayed on in the medical examiner’s office for another one-year residency program in forensic neuropathology.Dr. Melinek was only two months into her residency when the September 11 terrorist attack happened. She provides a firsthand account of events at the medical examiner’s office of that fateful event. She also covers the anthrax bio-terrorism attack in NYC and the crash of American Airlines flight 587. As the residency program was two years she also got to cover the routine murders, suicides and accidents normally dealt with by the medical examiner. Dr. Melinek reveals the day to day life of a forensic pathologist. She also provides some background information, for example: how a death certificate is filled out and why; what constitutes accidental death or homicide and so on. I found the information on the type of bullets and their effect on the body interesting as well as the general information of ballistics. Overall a most fascinating memoir.Dr. Melinek wrote the book with her husband, T. J. Mitchell. They met at Harvard where he was an English major. He works as a screenwriter and script editor.Tanya Eby does a good job narrating the book. Eby is a voice over artist and an award winning audiobook narrator.

  • Kerri (Book Hoarder)
    2019-02-14 14:15

    This book isn't for those with a weak stomach, and, well - it should probably be avoided if you're eating, too. I've always had a fascination for stuff that some people find a bit dark - true crime stories, biographies of serial killers, etc. So this book was right up my alley. Overall, the book does a good job of weaving together stories of a job that's rather morbid and dark with insights into the author's life and the lives of those she has a duty to - the dead and their families, who need answers and resolution. Some of the stories are weird, some of them will make you shake your head, some of them are just outright sad. For me, they reinforced the fact that I'm not cut out for this sort of work, as much as I enjoy reading about it. There is a chapter on the aftermath of 9/11 and I must warn who lived in New York or who was greatly impacted by the events that it is not an easy chapter to get through. Some may wish to skip it entirely. For me it was a reminder and more insight into just how truly awful that day was, and made my heart break all over again. I admire people like Judy, really - they do the work that most of us won't and can't do, and provide a vital service to our communities because of it. Books like this provide insight and remind us how important these sorts of jobs are, even if we never think about them.

  • Jenny (adultishbooks)
    2019-01-28 12:08

    I wasn't so sure about this memoir when I first started it. It was sciency and then I ended up listening to a huge chunk today to finish and it was AMAZING.It has all the disgusting, gory details that you would hope for. There's obscure diagnoses and freak accidents. There were times I would say "UGH" out loud while working and listening. She tells you what is the worst way to die...and it is BAD.She was also a part of the team that worked on cataloguing all of the World Trade Center remains from 9/11 and that section is the most haunting. This is what makes it special and a must read for anyone who is interested in dead body memoirs/non-fiction.If you enjoyed Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Stiff, you will most definitely like this memoir. If anyone knows of similar memoirs, please suggest them or recommend them to me.