One of the first shows I fell in love with a child was Quincy ME even if at that time I had no exact idea what a medical examiner’s work really entailed. It was my mother’s favorite show, along with Murder She Wrote and so we all sat in front of our one TV set on Sunday nights and watched it. If I had any questions about what an ME does and how he/she gets there, Judy Melinek, MD answered all my questions, and then some. I always knew that CSI and all those other shows depicted many of the job description wrong, but what makes for good work practice (bright lights, caps, gowns, face masks, and months before getting toxicology reports) doesn’t necessarily make for good TV. But behind the Gil Grissom’s and the Temperance Brennans of TV was dedication to their jobs, and I love seeing that in books like Working Stiff.
Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies and The Making of A Medical Examiner is Judy Melinek’s journey to being a medical examiner where two months into the job, she is among those responsible for doing the autopsies on the 9/11 victims. I remember the containers she talks about because I remember walking past them among the throng of people making their way to “Ground Zero” then and always wondered what was inside. Now I’ll be suspicious of every refrigerated container I walk past.
I honestly could not put this down – although I did so I could make dinner and sleep and do some work in between. I finished it at about 3am and my only advice is, if you’re at all squeamish, don’t read this right before bed. The one death that stays with me the most is the one that gave Melinek nightmares and I won’t spoil it for you – but you’ll know it when you get there.
I’m giving it 5/5 because I love her style of writing. It’s far from too technical and there were times that it felt like she were just telling me how her day went which brings back memories of my best friend telling me about what they did in med school that day while dissecting a cat cadaver in her backyard. I also felt for her whenever she talks about her father, who committed suicide when Melinek was just a teen.
I do think the book was a bit short because I wanted more stories, more cases. But then, that’s just me.