For this week's Member Pick, we're thrilled to share the first chapter of Drew Magary's new memoir on fatherhood, Someone Could Get Hurt
(Gotham Books). Magary, who writes for Deadspin
, has been featured on Longreads many times in the past
, and he explained how his latest book came together:
"I was in the middle of writing a second novel that would hopefully earn me a billion dollars in movie franchise royalties when my third kid was born. There were complications. I find that 'complications' is the universal euphemism for anything bad that happens during the birth and early life of an infant. It can mean anything, really: birth defects, mental illness, a lost limb, an ambulance driven into a tree, etc.
"If you've ever experienced complications with a baby, you know that it immediately makes any other difficulty you've ever experienced in life seem harmless by comparison. Your life can be neatly separated into Before Complications and After Complications. They always say that having a kid changes you, but that's a lie. It's having a kid on the brink of dying that changes you.
"So I had to table the novel for a bit and get this out of my system. I had to write about my third kid, and I had to write about my family as a whole, about this whole unit of people that needed to be strong enough to go through what we were about to go through. And that's how Someone Could Get Hurt came to be. This is the first chapter."
You can purchase the full book here.
Share an excerpt from this Exclusive.
Someone Could Get Hurt (Chapter 1)Drew Magary | Gotham Books | June 2013 | 10 minutes (2,332 words)Illustration by Kjell Reigstad
We all agreed that the child must be disemboweled. The doctor stood with my wife and me in the surgical waiting room and calmly explained what he was going to do. He would make a small incision in my son's belly. He would pull out my son's small intestine and lay it out on the table, all eight some-odd feet of it. He would check to make sure that blood was flowing to every part of the bowel. Then he would untangle the tangled parts, stuff them all back into the baby's body, and hope that they stayed in place. My son, at the time, was nine days old.
Our third child was born seven weeks premature with a condition known as intestinal malrotation. The doctor explained it like this: When you're in your mom's uterus, your intestines initially form outside of your body. Then they retreat into your abdomen, twist, and your abdomen seals up around them. If you're unfortunate enough to be born with this condition (5,000-to-1 odds, though more common in premature infants), that crucial twist never occurs, and you can end up with something called a volvulus, which sounds like a kind of Swedish superhero but is actually a dangerous condition in which the intestines get kinked, like a garden hose, and the path of digestion is cut off, restricting blood flow. You must have your belly split open so that everything can be put back in the proper order, or else you will die. If you're among the lucky souls born with properly ordered bowels, you should thank those bowels the next time they process a two-pound burrito on your behalf.
They found out that the baby had the condition when he began vomiting thick green fluid after his first feedings. The bile that he secreted to digest his formula was getting clogged in his intestines and was gurgling back up into his stomach, causing him to vomit over and over again. They placed a tube down into his stomach to suck up all the excess fluid and hoped the issue would resolve itself. Nights before the surgery, I stood by his isolette—an enclosed plastic incubator— in the NICU and stared at the output of that tube, praying that it would turn yellow or clear, hoping to God that he'd be spared the knife and that I'd never see that horrible green shit come out of him again. But I did see it again. I would come to the NICU during the day and ask the nurses if he barfed, my fingers crossed tight enough to break. And they often said yes, he had an "emesis." The first time I heard the word, I asked them if "emesis" meant barf, and when they said that it did, I wished they had just said that he had barfed instead.
The vomiting wouldn't stop. His insides weren't going to just naturally fall back into place. He had to be opened. No one makes it through life unscathed, but you usually get a grace period at the start. My son would not be so lucky. At the time, he weighed five pounds—large for a preemie, but still just five itty-bitty pounds. No heavier than a dictionary. I wondered how the surgeons' blades and instruments would fit inside him. Such a large surgery for such a tiny body, I thought.
The surgeon was talking us through the procedure as we all stood by the door to the OR. He had only a few moments to speak with us before our son had to go under. To wait any longer risked killing him.
"What's the survival rate for this surgery?" I asked the surgeon.
"If I don't find any salvageable bowel, the survival rate is zero." Doctors never explicitly say your loved one will die. They say things like "the survival rate is zero." It's up to you to jump to the proper conclusion. "But if the bowel is healthy," he said, "the survival rate is one hundred percent." He suspected my son's bowels were still viable, but he didn't rule out the possibility that there would be "dusky bowels," parts of the intestine that had lost blood flow permanently and were now dead and would have to be removed. Forever. I had never heard the term "dusky bowels" before. It sounded like a good name for a fantasy football team.
The doctor needed our consent before going ahead with the surgery. We didn't hesitate for an instant. In fact, we felt as if we had wasted enough of his time already. It's amazing how quickly you'll agree to a procedure like this once you hear talk of survival rates. You take a leap of faith. You trust that a total stranger will know how to properly disembowel your child because you do not. He was a nice-looking doctor. He seemed to know what he was talking about. Fuck it. I signed the forms.
To read the rest of this story—and get more exclusives like this—become a Longreads Member. It's just $3 a month or $30 a year.
From Someone Could Get Hurt (Gotham Books, 2013). Purchase the full ebook here.
Share an excerpt from this Exclusive.