Friday, September 02, 2011

Dead Center: Behind the Scenes at the World's Largest Medical Examiner's Office by Shiya Ribowsky and Tom Shachtman

Shiya Ribowsky, the former director of Special Projects for the New York City Examiner's Office, tells of how he came to work at the Medical Examiner's Office, and how he handled things before, during and after 9/11, until he quit being Director of Special Projects, and his life beyond.

Starting as an Orthodox Jew, Shiya's parents became part of the Frum movement, and Shiya grew up mostly in that world. But early on in his teens, he became more and more interested in hard science and less interested in religion, something that would eventually lead to him leaving the Frum world. But he trained as a Physician's Assistant, something his prior schooling and upbringing hadn't well prepared him for, due to it being more slanted towards religion.

Hut life as a PA was both exciting and stressful, and in the wake of study for a law degree, he found an opening as an MLI-I, a medico-legal investigator, level one. Working as an MLI was an eye-opener. The work was disgusting and often disturbing, but Shiya found himself loving the job and being very, very good at it.

So good, he found himself rising up in the ranks. But shortly before he could ascend to the position of director, 9/11 happened, and the Medical Examiner's Office had to deal with the corpses recovered from the World Trade Center site, and notifying the families, and identifying the pieces of bodies that weren't whole.

But as the days turned into weeks, and into months and years, the work went on, but Shiya found the needs of the job changing, and new procedures that Shiya and others helped develop, were put in place. By the time most of the remains were identified, and those left, likely never would be, the position he'd wanted had been filled by one of his contemporaries for 2 years, and was likely not leaving, and Shiya himself was almost too caught up in the concerns of the 9/11 families he had been helping. But what was left for him to do?

This book examines the life and times of Shiya Ribowksy as he came to work for the Office of the Medical Examiner, and his job and decisions in what happened on 9/11 and in the years afterwards. Some of what happened to him was growth, but in another way, it also locked him into a mindset that would make it impossible for him to continue in his job after the job of dealing with 9/11 was mostly done. Because he identified too much with the victims and the families of the victims, that became his whole focus, and when the job was done, he couldn't return to the job he was doing beforehand, nor could he move up in his chosen profession.

But the true meat of the book is about 9/11, and how the office of the Medical Examiner changed in response to what needed to be done. But it wasn't without resentment. Towards the end of his employment, he heard the sentiment that people hated 9/11, because so much of the medical examiner's office was directed at dealing with that, instead of other crimes that needed attention. And Shiya understood the sentiment, but at the same time, he couldn't change because of how the job and office changed him in the course of his changing them to respond to the crisis. The crisis was the making of his time there, and at the same time, the end of his time there. It lent a sad ending to the book that really wasn't warranted for all he had done.

This book is a fascinating read. Although it's concerned with some of the minutia of dealing with the crisis that 9/11 precipitated on the Medical Examiner's Office and the people who worked therein, it never bores or drags, and remains taut and interesting throughout. Highly recommended, especially to people who enjoy CSI, NCIS and other medical/investigation dramas and shows.

No comments: