Working Stiff

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

When I was asked the ubiquitous question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” as a child, I typically answered “A Doctor”.  Sometime around the end of high school/beginning of college, I had an epiphany and decided I didn’t really have the temperament to be a physician and went elsewhere with my career choices.  But I was left with a fascination for “real life” accounts of what it takes to be a medical professional.


There are a number of memoirs written by physicians either during their training, or shortly afterwards mixing anecdote and an introduction to the science behind the specialty they are studying.  Such is Working Stiff, Judy Melinek’s account of her training as a medical examiner and forensic pathology.  While the subject is potentially gruesome, Dr. Melinek and her co-author/husband T.J.  Mitchell had a delicate touch about just how much detail to provide to illustrate her anecdotes (or maybe I just have a reasonable tolerance for realistic descriptions of things involving death from all the Kathy Reichs and other murder books I've read). 


While chronologically, the events of 9/11/2001 occurred early in her training, Dr. Melinek chooses to hold her account of working the identification lines after the World Trade Center disaster (and the smaller, American Airlines crash in Queens) for the last chapters of the book.  I can understand why the author saved the description of the mass casualty responses for last – since they are the flashiest part of her story – but the despite the thematic structure, the way the book skipped around in time didn’t quite work for me and I wonder if a more chronological account might have been more compelling.


This book might make a good companion for Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers by Mart Roach, which I thought was not quite as entertaining as Roach's book Gulp, concerning the alimentary canal, but still worth the time to explore the various uses and 2nd lives of human cadavers.