Chuck Klosterman – “Eating the Dinosaur”


There’s two ways to make it more complex for the defense,” Leach told journalist Michael Lewis, writing for The New York Times Magazine. “One is to have a whole bunch of different plays, but that’s no good because then the offense experiences as much complexity as the defense. Another is a small number of plays run out of lots of different formations. That way, you don’t have to teach a guy a new thing to do. You just have to teach him new places to stand.”

It’s easy to overlook the significance of this kind of quote, mostly because it seems obvious and casual and reductionist. But it’s none of those things. It’s an almost perfect description of how thinking slightly differently can have an exponential consequence, particularly when applied to an activity that’s assumed to be inflexible.

The Amazing Story of Gus’s Birth

In my last post, I mentioned Gus’s esophageal atresia.
Well, one of the side-effects of that is that he could’t process amniotic
fluid. So while most women have two pounds of amniotic fluid, Sherry had more
like six or seven pounds. Like a whole extra baby’s-worth of fluid.

The reason I mention that is because, despite Gus coming a week before his due
date, we had been expecting him to come basically at any point in the past
month. Sherry certainly looked full term, and she’d been dilated for
about a month before he was born. She was 4 cm on her last appointment.

Now, my company is about to release a new version of their flagship product,
the transrectal ultrasound prostate scanner. (Just for the record,
“transrectal” means the device enters what is otherwise usually an exit-only
area) Before we go to market, we have to do some clinical trials on live human
beings. So the call went out among the employees for volunteers. For the sake of science! For the good of the company! For a cash payment!

This call went out a week before, and we weren’t getting much interest. In
fact, we had had only one sign-up. So, I decided I’d sign up myself. Why not?
The baby was going to come any day now, and when he or she did, I would start a
week of leave. What are the odds we still wouldn’t have had a baby between now
and then? I’d get credit for literally putting my ass on the line for the
company, but I wouldn’t actually have to deliver. What could possibly go
wrong with that?

Well. The big day rolls around and still no baby. As the morning worse on, I
was really starting to get nervous. Which was making me tense. Given the procedure in question,
“tense” is the last thing you want to be. For not the first time in my life I
was wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into.

I had walked by the office which they had converted into a makeshift exam room.
All the equipment was in place. The performing physician was chatting with the
marketing person. The machine operator was doing a final inspection. The only
thing they needed was a patient.

Then, at 10:43, I had this IM exchange:

Sherry: Still feel cruddy!

Me: No good, that!

Sherry: my body is falling to pieces

Me: Not too much longer, now!
(Editor’s note: J said this a lot. But what
else can you say? I’m sure in this particular instance, there was a bit more
hopefulness than usual)

Sherry: OH S$&%

My water just broke!

Me: Holy crap!

Sherry: Like, no warning!!!

I think you better come home!

She didn’t have to ask me twice. I clicked my heels together, snatched up my
stuff, and announced, “The water has broken! I have to go home! Enjoy the
clinical trials! Sorry I won’t be here for them!” And with that, I marched out the door.

As it happened, I could probably had time to get my prostate imaged, recover a
bit, and then have it done again. Most of the real action happened with me
making phone calls on the way home, arranging for the other baby, Charlie, to
get picked up and calling the doctor.

One of the people I called was Julie, our doula, or “birth helper-outer”. When
I talked to her she was apparently heading into a birth right then. She said
she had a feeling it was going to go very quickly, but just in case, she was
going to call with her backup. Well, her backup was out of town, so she put
us in touch with her backup backup. She seemed really nice on the phone, but
we hadn’t met her. So that part wasn’t ideal, but we were sure we could work
around it.

Once I got home, there really wasn’t anything for me to do. Usually the water
breaks after you’ve been having contractions, but sometimes the water just
breaks. That was the case here.

This was even true for Sherry. I mentioned the seven pounds of water. This is
almost a gallon. It didn’t all come out at once. So most of my time after I
got home involved me fetching towel after towel.

Once that settled down, I was at a total loss. Giving birth is like baseball,
a few minutes of action and hours of sitting around waiting for something to

So I cleaned the kitchen. Then I finished the homework assignment I was putting off until Friday night (Does this guy know how to party or what?) Then I shaved and changed shirts. I recalled that when Charlie was born, I looked like I’d been sleeping under a highway overpass for the last few days. I wanted to look good for this baby’s pictures. Or at least a bit less

So I learned something about myself: the way to make me really productive is to give me something great that will be happening in the near future that I just have to wait for. The excitement will get to me and I’ll end up doing odd tasks just to keep my mind off it.

Around 1:40, the contractions started. They were somewhere between 4 and 6 minutes apart, but extremely mild, apparently. Like I wouldn’t have known Sherry was having them if she didn’t say so. After she’d had a few, I knew what to look for, but they didn’t seem like anything I myself couldn’t handle. And I’m a total creampuff.

At 2:15 or so, we got a call from Julie. Turns out her other birth was really
quick after all. She showed up about a half hour later. And, as we’d planned,
Sherry’s friend Courtney also came by. She is also a doula, but she wasn’t
there in a professional capacity, more just there to watch and take pictures.

We had a pretty good plan, I thought: if Sherry’s contractions got more intense
or more regular, we would head to the hospital. And we’d head
over regardless at 4:00, so we wouldn’t get stuck in rush hour traffic.

Well, my mom had picked up Charlie and she came over at 4 so we could say
goodbye one last time. Then Sherry’s friend Mandi came over to take the dog. The dog is kind of a handful, so I walked out to the car with
them. When I came back inside, something was obviously up.

Sherry and Julie disappeared into the bedroom and came out about two minutes
later, saying “We need to leave. Like right now.” And then everything kind of
turned into a blur.

It was about 4:55 when we got Julie, Sherry and I loaded into my car, with
Courtney following in her car. The best way to get from Shrewsbury to St.
John’s hospital wasn’t possible because the highway was still under
construction. So I took a back road through
residential Webster, up Brentwood Blvd, and onto the highway there.

I don’t know how, but we made the trip in 20 minutes. In rush hour. It seemed
to be going a lot slower than that. We didn’t hit very many red lights, but
ever one we did it felt like we would sit there for an hour or so. It was
agony for me, and I wasn’t the one trying to hold a baby in.

Sherry thinks that if Julie wasn’t there, she would probably have given birth
on the side of the highway. It takes a lot of concentration to not push
when that’s all your body wants you to do, but Julie coached her through it.

I pulled into the loading zone and Courtney and Julie got Sherry into a
wheelchair. Then we took off like O.J. Simpson in that old Avis ad.
Or was it Hertz? In either case, we were running as fast as someone pushing a
wheelchair can go, yelling at slow people in our way, until we made it to the

Sherry’s mother gave birth to Sherry’s younger sister in the elevator of the
hospital. So when the door opened on the second floor and we got off, I made a
nervous quip that at least we’d done better than that. Although if Labor and
Delivery were on the tenth floor, it might have been a different story.

Julie had called ahead to the doctor, and the doctor had called the hopsital to
arrange a room. So, after turning the wrong way once, we got ourselves into
Labor 26, and a pack of nurses converged on us.

One of them said, “Sherry, we need you to get in the bed here.”

“I can’t,” she responded. “The baby’s coming.”

I think she took it as the usual prenatal hyperbole. So she said, “I understand, but you need to get into this bed.”

Sherry somehow got from the wheelchair into the bed, but she was on all fours
facing the wrong way.

“We need you to turn around.”

“I can’t.”

“Well, can you at least turn on your side?”

Sherry kind of fell over, and the nurse and I then noticed the baby head that
was poking out of Sherry’s woman parts. I let out a surprised expletive. The
nurse noticed the cord was around the baby’s neck a bit tighter than anyone
wanted, so she asked Sherry to push.

Sherry pushed one time and the baby was born, at 5:23 p.m.

I had asked not to know if we were having a boy or a girl, so the first clue I
got about that was seeing the baby’s boyhood live and in person. I was happy
we had a boy. As close together in age as Charlie and the next baby were going
to be, I thought it would work better if they were brothers. I’m sure I would
still have been happy if it was a girl, but we’ll never know for sure.

I was a bit worried that the baby seemed a bit purplish when he came out, but
he wasn’t so purple any of the nurses were worried. And he turned a nice pink
color a minute later.

I wandered over to the table where the nurse and physician were cleaning up the
baby. The physician asked if I wanted to cut the cord. I said, “Oh, hell,
no.” I’m sure some people would be honored. I’m not coordinated when I’m not
feeling emotional. In this case, I would be so nervous I’d end up cutting off
something I wasn’t supposed to.

Charlie had let out a loud cry the second he was out, but Gus didn’t do that.
Because of his esopheal atresia, the saliva and snot and what not had no
where to go. So he didn’t make any noise until the nurse cleaned out his nose,
but it was still kind of faint.

Then we brought him back to Mom. She got some quality time with the very cute
baby and Courtney took some pictures. But the sniffling and snortling got to
be too much, so we gave him back pretty soon after that. They carted Gus down
to the NICU and Courtney and I followed.

He was weighed: 6 lbs, 3 oz. Then they inserted a tube in his nose to
automatically vacuum out the aforementioned saliva, etc. It was kind of sad to
see, but it had to happen.

Once I was pretty sure they had that scene under control, we went back to the
room. Our OB had finally arrived and he was helping the resident do stitches.
Apparently he had gotten stuck in all the traffic we had lucked out of.
Although if you had to choose, I’d rather he get the traffic than us. He gave
me a hug and lots of congratulations.

I don’t know how long everyone was in the room, but eventually they all went
their separate ways. The room looked pretty bad. I kept expecting Gary
Sinese to walk in looking for clues. But they got everything cleaned up, and
eventually left Sherry and I alone and in a bit of a daze at what
had just happened.

And that’s the story of how Gus was born. In a hospital room. About 20 seconds
after we got there.


Postscript: Sherry has written her own version of the story of Gus’s
birth, which you can read
here. In
the interest of getting two different perspectives, I haven’t read it. I
didn’t want to be biased at all. So her story will probably talk about
different things, and we may disagree on some basic facts of the story.
Although if any facts in my story cast me in a suspiciously better light than
in her story, my story is still probably correct.

Gus’s Health

Two days ago we gave birth to a new baby, Augustine Michael LeBlanc, or Gus, as we’re calling him. And when I say “We gave birth”, I mean Sherry gave birth and I watched and paced nervously.

Actually the birth itself was like a scene from The French Connection, and I’ll tell that story another day.

Right now, I’d like to talk about Gus’s health.

Gus has esophageal atresia. This means that instead of his esophagus connecting to his stomach, it ends in a little pouch. It’s a random birth defect. Apparently it isn’t genetic, but nobody knows what causes it. It’s very rare. But most importantly, it’s almost never life threatening.

(More info can be found

Fortunately for us, we already knew about all this. Gus’s stomach wasn’t showing up in his 20-week ultrasound, so they had a follow-up ultrasound. Nothing there either. Then they had an MRI, and that’s where we found out for sure.

There are three common types of EA. I’ll spare you the names and just say that one of them is very easy to fix, one of them is fairly easy to fix, and one of them is tricky to fix. They could tell Gus didn’t have the very easy one, but the fairly easy one is by far the most common, and the tricky one is way less so.

We wouldn’t know one way or the other until they could take a look after birth, so we had been assuming we were going to have the fairly easy one to fix. In this case, the two ends of the esophagus are fairly close to each other, and it’s pretty straightforward to connect them. It would be a quick surgery, and we’d be out of the hospital in a week.

Well, as it happened, we have the tricky one. Type A for those of you keeping score at home. The reason it’s tricky is because the two ends are far apart. In Gus’s case, they’re over 4 cm apart, or about an inch and a half. This isn’t the longest anyone’s heard of, but it’s a very long way apart.

Our pediatric surgeon has taken his once-a-year vacation this weekend (Good timing on our part!) So we won’t know what the final treatment is going to be until he’s had a chance to take a look at the X-rays. But in the meantime, they’re going to want him to grow a bit, so hopefully his esophagus ends get longer and make it easier to connect them together.

They’ve installed a feeding tube straight into his stomach and they’re going to try to get him plenty of Mom’s milk. They’ll start slow, since his stomach has never had anything in it, so it’s about the size of a pea right now. And they installed a very intense-looking IV to get home lots of nutrition. And also, since there’s nowhere for his phlegm and saliva to go, they’ve got yet another tube into the end of his upper esophagus to vacuum all that out.

So any pictures of Gus you see, he’ll have a bunch of tubes and hoses sticking out of him. That’s the story with that.

If there is any good news here, it’s that esophageal atresia is often associated with a bunch of other birth defects. As far as we know, now, we don’t have any of them. I was particularly worried about “imperforate anus”, whatever that is. And, as I mentioned, this is not life-threatening.

I know of all the problems we could have, this one isn’t so bad at all. But it’s still a problem.

So I guess my point is, if you’re the religious sort, please keep us in your prayers. If you’re not the religious sort but spiritual, try to send some positive energy this way. And if you’re neither religious nor spiritual, I dunno. Keep us in your thoughts.