Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner | Judy Melenik, M.D. and T.J. Mitchell
Publication Date: August 12th, 2014
Page Count: 272
Why I read it: I first heard about this from my favorite true crime podcast, Sword and Scale. It's written by Dr. Judy Melenik, a medical examiner who completed her training in Manhattan during 9/11. She and her husband are interviewed in Episode 53 of Sword and Scale, and I was hooked right away.
First Sentence: "'Remember. This can only end badly."
Book Description: Gripping and raw, Working Stiff presents a behind the scenes look at what takes place during an autopsy. The medical examiner is responsible for determining the cause of death and the manner of death. They of course perform autopsies, but it's also about giving the families of the deceased closure. Dr. Melenik shares a bit about herself and her training, but more about the patients she'd encountered during her training. Two things that stuck with me: staying alive is mostly about common sense, and there's no such thing as a minor surgery. That, and if you ever get the chance to meet a medical examiner, don't ask them to tell you about the most gruesome death they've seen...
My Thoughts: This was completely fascinating! I am not from a science background and this was written in such a clear and thoughtful way. You do not need to be in medicine or healthcare to understand this book, but if you have an interest in anatomy you'd enjoy it. It's pretty clinical and she does share about her story, but I'm nosy and would have liked to know a even more about her family life, especially since her husband co-wrote the book. I liked the way the book was structured, beginning of residency in NY to the end. It was detailed but not cumbersome. It really made me think about the fragility of life. The doctor's father committed suicide, and she was so thoughtful into how she speaks about it and how she addresses her families. Reading this made me want to visit my doctor and have a full body scan, just in case! If you are a hypochondriac, I would not recommend reading this book, or you might end up with a touch of medical student syndrome. Naturally, this is about death so I wouldn't recommend it if you're particularly squeamish. I can take a fair amount of graphic detail, but I did find that i was genuinely creeped out because of the matter of fact way in which the author described the bodies. She illustrated her points by giving lots of examples, and every time someone new was introduced I found myself thinking oh, I hope she survives! only to remember that “this can only end badly".
Favorite Quote: "After performing a meticulous autopsy with no findings, I couldn't say for sure what had killed this man. I wrote the cause of death as 'anoxic encephalopathy due to loss of consciousness of undetermined etiology.' This translates as 'lack of oxygen to the brain from fuck-if-I-know."
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