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Judy Melinek, M.D., and her husband T.J. Mitchell wrote Working Stiff: The Making of a Medical Examiner, an account of her training as a forensic pathologist, a physician specialist who investigates sudden, unexpected or violent deaths.
They lived in New York City for two years so she could study at the NYC Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). She was at the office when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11 and thus collaborated with the team of investigators who worked night and day identifying remains of the victims, a task she vividly describes in the book.
As a forensic pathologist, she understands why and how people die, and therefore also knows how people can avoid dying unexpectedly. As she writes,
“So don’t jaywalk. Wear your seat belt when you drive. Better yet, stay out of your car and get some exercise. Watch your weight. If you’re a smoker, stop right now. If your 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.”
Working Stiff moves at a quick pace, in a conversational style. When she uses medical jargon, she explains it in simple terms. She describes the cases she investigated in detail so those with weak stomachs (no pun) may want to skip this read.
Having suffered her father’s unexpected death when she was 13 years old, she was no stranger to death, and she learned more from the 262 autopsies she did during her training. As she says in this engaging memoir,
“To confront death every day, to see it for yourself, you have to love the living.”
I recommend this book.