Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
The world of a medical examiner isn’t all glamour and guts, it’s a lot of difficult work. Judy started out wanting to be a surgeon. She went to medical school and then went into a surgical residency, which proved to be an experience direct from Satan himself, so Judy quit and looked into opportunities for a doctor who didn’t cut a residency program. She soon found an opening for a residency to train as a medical examiner, you know, the people who look at dead bodies and tell you why they died. If you’re familiar with X-Files, it’s what Scully was always doing.
Judy and her family move to New York City in order to pursue Judy’s medical examiner training. Judy is shocked, a little, by what she encounters, but soon comes to terms with death and life. She performs autopsies on over two-hundred people while in New York and sees death in all manner of ways. People die from disease and people die from freak accidents. Judy sees plenty of both.
Judy is especially hard on suicides because her father committed suicide, but never-the-less, she performs autopsies on suicide cases as well.
Judy happens to be in New York for the bombing of the World Trade Center. Judy is on the team of medical examiners that are tasked with identifying the bodies of the dead. The team identifies over a thousand people from the smoldering pile of destruction, but many more people are only issued death certificates because their employers and family knew they were supposed to be at the World Trade Center on that day and they never came home. The carnage that Judy describes from the bombing is quite awful. The dead were kept in refrigerated semi trucks lining the streets of New York City near the facility where Judy worked.
In the end, Judy is tired of all the death in New York City, and the tall buildings, and she and her family go back to California.
What I liked
This book was highly interesting. I’ve worked in the medical field before so a lot of these things were not surprising, or gross to me. I’ve seen a lot of stuff that most people don’t want to hear about. The human body is very interesting and the things that can happen to it are interesting. I think being a little closer to death, by working in the medical field, keeps people a little more in touch with life. If that isn’t a huge contradiction or anything.
Being a medical examiner sounds like being a detective who has to look at gross things to figure out the mystery.
I liked reading Judy’s accounts of all the different situations she’s been in.
What I didn’t like
9/11 is one of those things that has never left my memory. I still remember, quite vividly, watching the first tower fall, live on TV, and thinking to myself that I just saw a whole lot of people die. It’s not something that goes away. It was a terrible, terrible thing. Reading about Judy’s experience dealing with all the bodies, but mainly body parts, from the World Trade Center was awful. All those people died for a stupid reason. It’s heartbreaking to read about Judy finding pieces of people embedded in pieces of other people, or engraved wedding rings being the only way to identify someone’s remains. I don’t know how Judy did it. She’s a stronger person than I am to go to work, every day, for a while, to look at body parts from the worst terrorist attack we’ve had in a long time.
Judy is really hard on people who have committed suicide. She outright calls it selfish, in every situation. I sort of agree with Judy, but not all the way. Judy’s father killed himself and she grew up without a father from the time she was thirteen. I grew up without a father pretty much my entire life. My father died of cancer though. If he had committed suicide instead, maybe I would have the same feelings as Judy, but even as young as I was when my father died, I knew that he had been suffering a whole lot and his suffering was over.
If my father had killed himself because he was sick, I don’t know that I could be as hard on him as Judy is on her father. Sometimes life just sucks really bad, especially if disease is involved. If I knew someone who found out that they had some incurable disease that was going to turn them into another person, or leave them paralyzed, or something similar, I don’t know that I could be harsh on them for committing suicide. I don’t know that I could condemn this person for cutting their suffering short.
If you just up and killed yourself because you were feeling a bit blue, I would agree with Judy to an extent about suicide being selfish. There is counseling. There are antidepressants. There’s even ST. John’s Wart. Something could have helped you with your depression. On the other hand, I know what being depressed is like. I know that it can feel as if there is no sunshine in the world, nor will there ever be again. I know what it’s like to despair on such a level that you feel utterly broken and every breath feels like a burden; every moment of existence is a burden. Suicide seems like a viable option when it comes to those types of situations. I’m not saying it’s a good choice, but in your brain, when your brain is like that, suicide doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.
I think suicide is one of those grey areas in our society. If you’re depressed, there are certainly things that can be done for you. If you kill yourself, there are certainly people who will be utterly heart-broken. For a while, that idea was one of the only things that kept me from suicide myself. I think we do need to think of other people. If we killed ourselves, what would our loved ones who are left do? How would they feel? To put them through such a heartbreak, when they don’t need to go through that heartbreak, is selfish. Again, though, on the other hand, if I had a loved one who was so sick with incurable cancer and every moment was pain and sickness and they committed suicide, I don’t know that I could call them selfish. Their suffering is something that seems to grow exponentially by the day and by killing themselves, that suffering is gone. Sure, it means I’ll suffer from the loss of them, but is it right for me to feel all abandoned knowing that their suffering was so immense that life was torture every second of the day? On the other hand, to be devil’s advocate for the thousandth time, I would want every second with this person that I could get because I would know that they are going to die and I would cherish every second that I could have and I might feel that I would slighted if they killed themselves before death would ultimately occur.
Ultimately, I think it’s a grey area and a situational thing.
Very interesting, I won’t think about medical examiners the same way anymore.
Could you be a medical examiner?
Do you think working around death normalizes the idea of death?