The book by Judy Melinek is autobiographical and contemporary and describes how a Forensic Pathologist or a Medical Examiner in USA is trained to be one. The New York City is in the background and the office of the Chief Medical Examiner in the foreground. My visit to New York in 2014 and staying in Manhattan area for a week and visit to the OCME helped me to visualise the events and place described in the book better. Dr Bernard Knight has described the OCME quite vividly in his book ‘Autopsy’ which has since changed quite a lot.
I was pleasantly surprised at the similarity in Judy’s professional learning experience and mine. The workload and the style of mentoring are strikingly similar on opposite sides of the globe! Although there are surprising contrasts too.
Her description of disaster of 11th September 2001 is truly engrossing and to a Forensic Pathologist a learning experience. The magnitude of the tragedy assumes an estimate in our mind, the only way that it can. Her comparison to other trauma cases lets a Forensic Pathologist estimate better the grade of effect on the victims. The description of smell and feel is what a Pathologist can readily identify with. It is unique and deserves praise for its spontaneity and honesty. The conversations amongst the pathologists and those with anthropologists and the police transcend boundaries and culture.
One striking difference though in routine working of the Forensic Pathologist is the mention of necessity of assigning the manner of death to each case. This is not mandatory in India, although the police do discuss the autopsy findings and take the cue. We mention the manner of death when we are certain about it but do not feel compelled to do so.
What Judy conveys very effectively is how a balanced Pathologist feels, faces, rationalises human tragedy faced by self and others, develops a perspective and philosophy and moves on. Her father’s suicide inspire of being a personal tragedy finally gains the status of an experience of value to help others in the similar situation. The resilience of human nature and yet the permanence of the injury as scar are visible simultaneously in a tender sort of way.
The handling of relationships at a personal level and recalling them at work place is also beautiful, natural and endearing. She does not flinch in facing them and then admitting that they exist. That perhaps is the essence of the book!
Being a woman myself and probably similar age, I do feel similarities but mainly differences and that amuses me too. It is interesting how in two different countries with such different cultures, legal and administrative policies, similarities do emerge. Life and death is an issue larger than anything else that ever can be!