Saturday, August 30, 2014
By Judy Melinek, M.D. and T.J. Mitchell
Published by Scribner, August 12th, 2014
This is a notable book. Not just because Judy Melinek was one of the MEs who worked with the victims of the 9/11 disaster, but because of the everyday routine work she did, ascertaining the causes of death of so many of the residents of New York during her two years there.
Death can occur from all sorts of causes: suicides, murders, house fires, drug overdoses, car accidents and industrial accidents, to name but a few. Dr Melinek was instrumental in determining deaths which had initially seemed accidental were in fact the result of malicious intent, most notably in the case of a small child whose mother decided to "punish" her by immersing her in a bath of scalding hot water, and the child subsequently died from her burns. Hospital staff initially thought it was accidental, but she was able to prove conclusively that this was not the case.
The stories range from shocking to heartbreaking and frightening but although the often distressing cases and autopsy findings are described in detail, they are described sensitively and not gruesomely - a very clever and well-crafted balancing act by the authors. The long-term aftermath of the suicide of Dr Melinek's psychiatrist father when she was herself only a child emerges quite early on in the book and is a recurrent theme when she muses on what drives people to suicide as she performs the autopsies of people who have committed suicide and deals extremely sensitively with their families.
The events of 9/11 naturally occupy a significant part of the book. I was particularly interested to read about this period from the point of view of the medical examiner team, for all of whom this was a horrifying and unprecedented new experience despite their daily dealings with death in all its myriad forms and variety.
A five star book in my opinion; I read my review ebook twice in quick succession :-)