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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Staying Alive Is Mostly Common Sense
"Staying alive is mostly common sense", Judy Melinek tells her husband, TJ, after he complains that listening to her daily stories of her work as a Forensic Pathologist, will cause him to wear gloves and a mask when he is out in public. Certainly the stories, Judy shares can be gruesome and cause one to wonder how they will die. After all, a pathologist gives you the last...
Published 10 months ago by prisrob

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a text book
goo, well written and interesting.
Published 3 months ago by A. M. Stirling


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Staying Alive Is Mostly Common Sense, 15 Aug. 2014
By 
prisrob "pris," (New England USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)   
"Staying alive is mostly common sense", Judy Melinek tells her husband, TJ, after he complains that listening to her daily stories of her work as a Forensic Pathologist, will cause him to wear gloves and a mask when he is out in public. Certainly the stories, Judy shares can be gruesome and cause one to wonder how they will die. After all, a pathologist gives you the last physician exam you will ever have.

Judy Melinek, the author, along with her husband, TJMitchell, gives us the story of her life as a Medical Examiner, or Forensic Pathologist in New York City. Here, she learned at the hands of some of the best pathologists in the world. Judy and TJ met at Harvard where they both graduated. Judy went on to study as a surgeon in a prestigious hospital in Boston. What this experience taught her was that she would be forever tired, and working as a surgeon under these conditions is dangerous to us, her patients. After taking a year off to bring her son into the world, she studied as a pathology resident in California, and then went to the Medical Examiner's office in New York City.

All of Judy's stories were exhilarating and informative, but the most unbelievable and realistic experience was after the 9/11 disaster. Each body and each body part, no matter how small, had to be examined. Judy relates the organization required and the skill set necessary to get through this trying time. The other point that Judy makes quite well, is that a autopsy is a medical discovery. You need to want to be a detective. One of the most important parts of the job, is communicating with the family. You are delivering the news on how a love one died. Some relatives are disbelieving, some don't want to know the truth. But, your word is the last word. Judy discusses her mentors, and what she learned under their tutelage. The stories are sometimes funny but always filled with the knowledge that comes from someone who truly knows their profession, and is probably one of the best.

I am a health care professional, so all of the stories describing the autopsy were informative, and brought me back to my anatomy and physiology years. For others, this detail may be too much, but I advise you skip over the parts that may disturb you, and concentrate on the stories. These are stories of the humans who inhabited the bodies that turned up in the Medical Examiner's Office. Dr. Judy Melinek gives us a rare glimpse into this world. I read this book during the Robin William's suicide, and Judy discusses her father's suicide and her reactions, which I found very helpful and filled with a daughter's memories. This book is well written, from Judy and her husband, TJ's perspectives. Memorable.

Recommended. prisrob 08-15-14
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant but spares nothing of the painful or decomposing aspects of death., 28 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (Kindle Edition)
Brilliant book but be warned, you are spared nothing of the squishy side of death, very detailed descriptions of bodies and also what they experienced at the end of their lives, often harrowing suffering. I have been studying forensic pathology as part of my work but anyone who's curious about the physical side of the universal human experience of dying could find this utterly fascinating. However the newly bereaved and suicidal may find it hard to read. the author has a real issue with suicide (her father killed himself when she was a child so it's understandable) but those planning suicide might think twice when they read the agony involved in some deaths that appear quick and painless to the general public: this may be her intention. She gives a dark story of New York city and the ways of death it brings including 9/1 and its aftermath. She seems to care about her 'patients' and their families though. She also makes it clear that cats do eat their dead owner's faces, without compunction or hesitation!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating!, 12 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (Kindle Edition)
This book was fascinating! I have always had a love for anatomy and physiology. When studying Veterinary Nursing it was one of my favorite topics. In another life to be a coroner would have been a dream job. A little weird but I love the thought of being given the answer and having to work your way back to the beginning.

As the title suggests, this book documents Judy's journey through the 262 bodies that made her a medical examiner.

The bodies on Judy's table find their way to her in very different ways from suicide to accident to murder. Each chapter is dedicated to a different body and how that body was able reveal the story of how the person met his or her end. I really admired Judy's ability to write about the deceased in a respectful way. Books centered around this subject matter can often be very cold but this wasn't the case here. Working still has the perfect balance between emotion and science. I was particularly impressed with her ability to deal with loved ones. Especially loved ones who seemed to have trouble coming to terms with the cause of death. I've met many scientists and doctors who are seem to be void of empathy. She seemed to have time for everyone. she even took the time to lay out bones in a funeral style so the family could see them before the burial, allowing them some sense of closure.

As for the autopsies themselves they are incredibly well detailed. She thoroughly describes the process from start to finish. This may be slightly off putting for the more squeamish reader but I loved it.

I learned so much from reading this book. For example: contrary to what crime fiction and documentaries would have us think, medical examiners are not in and out of court every other day. Only on rare occasions was Judy asked to give evidence in court and most of the time she never learned the final outcome as she was just so busy! The majority of deaths are natural causes or accidental.

The final few chapters take saddening turn as Judy is called on to help identify bodies after the attack on the twin towers. The profound effect this had on her really came through in the writing. I can't imagine what it must have been like to be faced with hundreds of body parts and to be responsible for trying to identify a body from a ring or a polished fingernail. She really is an admirable person.

I found this book utterly engrossing. If you're interested in science, the human body and what really happens on the autopsy table then this book is for you!
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5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary, moving read, 7 April 2015
I have a long-standing fascination with human anatomy, surgery and pathology. Two of my stand-out books of last year were 'Do No Harm', the memoirs of brain surgeon Henry Marsh; and Belinda Bauer's 'Rubbernecker', a novel that spends much of its time in the otherworldly environment of the dissecting room (and is one of the few books to test my kevlar-coated gag reflex to its limits). This interest goes back to primary school. Aged 9 or 10 and asked to write about 'What I Want To Be When I Grow Up', I vividly remember asking my teacher how to spell 'pathologist'. I blame too many Monday night episodes of Quincy M.E.

In Judy Melinek's extraordinary memoir we meet the real-life equivalent of Jack Klugman's growling Medical Examiner. Working Stiff describes the two years Melinek spent working as an M.E. in New York, a job she took on the recommendation of a university tutor: 'All kinds of great ways to die there.' These words are borne out by Melinek's book, which describes many striking and singular examples of death: bad luck (one man is killed by a lightning strike, his shoes blown off and a bald patch seared onto his scalp); appalling criminality (during a street fight one man is thrown down a sewer pipe, and is boiled to death by the scalding water flowing through it); and plain stupidity (high on crystal meth and locked out of his apartment, a man attempts to rappel down the side of the building tied to a television cable; it snaps and he falls to several floors to his death). As Melinek says early on, 'staying alive... is mostly common sense.'

Melinek's role as Medical Examiner is not only to carry out the autopsy but also to lead the investigation into an individual's death, working alongside the police where this is necessary, and issuing the final death certificate. Melinek sees her role as much of a much wider process - the autopsy can tell one a great deal about the manner of someone's death, but often this is not the full story. As the book progresses, Melinek does an excellent job of turning these cases into real people, and reminding us that they once had rich lives and families, for whom she must also care. 'The dead body is not my only patient. The survivors are the ones who really matter. I work for them too.'

Melinek's job is not just about the autopsy itself (although this forms a large part of it) but also includes visits to death and crime scenes.These visits provide some of the book's most visceral, stomach churning descriptions, of corpses left to become fresh meat for maggots. Melinek also gives any cat owners reading the book pause for thought: 'Your faithful golden retriever might sit next to your dead body for days, starving, but the tabby won't. Your pet cat will eat you right away, with no qualms at all. Like any opportunistic scavenger, it will start with your eyeballs and lips. I've seen the result.'

An extraordinary shadow hangs over the book, one not fully realised until close to the end. Melinek acted as Medical Examiner in New York from Summer 2001 until the middle of 2003. Her time there coincided with the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, an event which resulted in the deaths of 2,871 people. Even at a distance of over 10 years one can only wonder what life in the city at that time must have been like. I recall hearing the news at work and (in an age before Twitter and online rolling news), sneaking out so I could head for the nearest pub and television set to find out what was going on.

Melinek's description of that day and the ones that followed it bring the tragedy alive once more, and in a wholly new way. We empathise not just with the people who were killed and their families, but also those brave souls who dealt with the aftermath and provided grieving relatives with some explanation of what happened to their loved ones. Along with the rest of her team Melinek was tasked with identifying the dead, with in many cases only fragments left to guide them. Her beautifully clear prose (one of my highlights of the book, and undoubtedly a product of her experience in explaining complex medical information to the public) is particularly apparent here, and a reflection of her team's steadfast professionalism and empathy.

I'd been waiting to read 'Working Stiff' for several months, and I'm pleased to say that it lived up to all my expectations. I'm in admiration of anyone who can do a job like Melinek's, but to do it under such grave and difficult circumstances is incredible. Her commitment to the job is testament not only to her training but also her strength of character. Interested as I might be in all things pathological, I find it hard to believe that I would have coped in as admirable a way as Melinek did.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A must buy book!, 20 Dec. 2014
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. I found it to be a fascinating insight in to a field of expertise I, having zero medical experience, knew very little about. I've always been curious of what procedures follow at the end of life as I find the subject is very seldom spoke about and can be very much taboo.

Dr Melinek brings the reader right up to the autopsy table and deep in to graphic scenarios such as visiting crime scenes in the immediate aftermath of suicides and homicides (often horrific) all from the comfort and safety of your own home. Autopsy procedures are very descriptive and informative, described methodically and in great detail. Dr Melinek does a great job of explaining medical terminology in both a professional manner and in Layman's terms, having had to previously present herself in courts in front of a jury of people who more likely than not, have had little knowledge of medical or forensic terminology. Therefore I would recommend this great book to anyone even if not familiar with medical practices and procedures.

Judy's personality really shines throughout the book. Whether it be her home life with a very loving, supportive husband and children, her professionalism to her work, empathy for bereaved families and compassion for the deceased, there is a great balance to this book and future readers can expect to experience a variety of emotions whilst reading.

You can't help but formulate a deep and longing respect for Dr Melinek and her work colleagues as you get an insight in to how meticulous and painstaking their work can be as you learn how they dealt with the immediate aftermath of tragic events resulting in a catastrophic loss of life such as September 11th and American Airlines Flight 587.

A brilliantly informative, educational and engrossing book. Highly recommendable and one that you'll want to read again. It gets 5 stars from me.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it!, 5 Mar. 2015
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Fantastic book, I just couldn't stop reading it. A bit too epic for my taste when it tells the story of 9/11 attacks, but it was very interesting to learn more about it.
The book tells some gruesome stories, quite many details about the autopsies, ways of dying etc. So it's surely not for everyone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book, 10 Sept. 2014
By 
Onyx "J.Bear" (chesterfield, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (Kindle Edition)
I was gripped by this book in which she describes her work doing autopsies in new york. The book however is often describing horrific things including 9/11, a plane crash, many murders and she describes the worst death she saw. These stories will stay with me forever and I kind of feel that despite it being a great book it should have a warning in case anyone who can't handle these stories doesn't realise how bad they can be before they start reading. This doesn't detract from the skill of the author or the quality of the writing it's just the world is horrific. I found the science accessible, although I needed to look up several medical terms, most things are explained and the science is fascinating, if I or someone I loved were to die I would hope the people finding the cause would be as caring and dedicated as the doctors mentioned in this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accurate, real and not glamorous, 7 Sept. 2014
By 
E. King "bookmadlizzy" (Cambridgeshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (Kindle Edition)
A good read about the realities of life as a medical examiner. Some good information about OCME's role during 9/11 and the Queens airline disaster. Definitely worth a read, but not for the squeamish!
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5.0 out of 5 stars A book so good you will live it with Judy!, 5 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (Kindle Edition)
Judy Melinek hits the spot in a dynamic biographical account, of life, love, humanity and death.
This book is not only written with huge intelligence and modesty, but also the author takes you on a journey which could change or shape your life.
Like a great teacher, she will have you in her grip, and like an obedient student, you will follow and learn without resistance.
I give this book 5 stars, because I couldn't put it down and I want to share it with all of my favourite friends.
I want to dissect it and pick over it in long conversations, with people who will be as fascinated and absorbed as I was.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 20 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner (Kindle Edition)
I first downloaded the sample of the book to my kindle and after reading it in one go I immediately purchased the full version. Not disappointed! If you are interested in forensics, curious subject of death and its varieties, you will go through the book wishing a couple of days, like I did. Fascinating cases, well written with a pinch of black humour. I only just finished and really wish for more! The only downside is that you cannot buy the paper book just yet, which I prefer but going to get it as soon as it's released. Awesome one to add to my collection.
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