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Drew Magary on what happened after the lights went out

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Over the years, we’ve talked with Drew Magary about sports, science fiction, walking and much more. The last time we talked almost didn’t happen at all.

Three years ago, Magary collapsed after hosting the Deadspin awards ceremony in New York City. Lucky to live, he wound up in a coma, and had to fight back from brain damage, hearing loss, the loss of smell, changes to his mood, and other challenges. Magary’s new memoir of his life since that harrowing experience is called “The Night the Lights Went Out: A Memoir of Life After Brain Damage.”

There’s a mystery at the heart of this book, which is, what actually happened to you? And you never really find out 100%. So what questions do you still have about that night?

Actually, I don’t have any. You know, in theory it’s a book about the fact that I suffered this brain hemorrhage and doctors and the people who saved my life at the time, no one can quite figure out how or why it happened, because I collapsed in a hallway. And no one was in the hallway at that time. And my coworker, Jorge Corona, looked away from me for a split second from another room, and didn’t see me collapse, and then looked over a split second later, and then I was down on the floor. So there was never really a good explanation for it. And, you know, if this had been a pot boiler, then I would have really dug down to see if I could get to the answer of that, you know, so it would be like, sort of, like a standard mystery, just happens to be something that happened to me personally.

But ultimately, the book is about me accepting that that will always be a mystery, because I don’t think it’s something that I can solve, even if I had put all my resources into it. I wrote during COVID, of course. So I think, pretty early on, I was not terribly tortured by the how of why my injury happened, or the why of why my injury happened. Because I was just too interested in recovering. And since my recovery now, I’m still always gonna be in recovery. But I’m in a pretty good spot now. But since then, I’ve just been pleased with, you know, my progress in that regard. But I think if I went back and did “A Beautiful Mind” thing and start scrawling over my walls about you know, what could have possibly caused this, I think I would just drive myself nuts. And I don’t have much interest in doing that.

You lost a lot of time. Because you were out, you didn’t have any memory of the event. And there was a lot of activity around you, but you were you laid up. I mean, you were in a coma and so on. How much time did you actually lose?

I lost two weeks. But when I woke up, after my coma, I was still freshly brain damaged. And then you know, the drugs…I was in a medically induced coma, so they had to give me a battery of drugs, including fentanyl to put me into that coma. And during the two weeks, I was periodically taken out of the coma to see if I could tolerate being sentient and I couldn’t, and I don’t really have much memory of those. And then what happened after I sort of woke up and was taken out of the coma for good was that I alternated between being sort of aware and awake but also hallucinatory, and then other times paranoid, and other times angry. And so it’s not a particularly reliable jumble that I have from the remaining three weeks that I stayed in the hospital after the two weeks that I was under.

One thing I really identified with was people who were around you from your job and your life and your friends. They were all desperate to be able to do something for you. And they pretty much didn’t know what to do you know. You had people bringing in junk food and trying to contact the old Drew somehow while you were while you were out. Anyone who’s had loved ones in the hospital or something like that, sometimes all you can do is just kind of wait.

Yeah, you feel helpless. I just had happen. I had a friend pass away, and you feel you want to do something and you don’t know what to do and then you feel bad that you don’t know what to do. Everybody wants to feed to feed a problem and then you give a tray of cookies to the bereaved and you know, they’ve got 50 other trays of cookies sitting around the kitchen. It’s hard to sort it out and, you know, that’s part of the process for anyone who’s been through injury like me, you know, is you know, I had to learn how to be a disabled person and be someone who, you know, who had a brain hemorrhage but also the people around me had to learn what are the best actions to take in an emergency?

Those are just life lessons that you learn along the way. Nobody is ready for that. My wife was 43 and I was 42 when I was stricken down, and I was 42. So you know, she was not really prepared for that to happen. And of course, I wasn’t either. Nobody gave me a sheet of paper that said, Oh, hey, you know what, you’re gonna collapse in the hallway, and your life’s gonna be completely different from now on.

She’s really the unsung hero of this book. But also, I mean, of your survival to a certain degree. You were several states away from where you live, no one knew what had happened, let alone what the prognosis was, and she had to relocate with your three kids and kind of figure out how to get you better.

She did, yeah, she had to do all of that. And it’s just very taxing. Like, it’s not only the emotional strain of it, but also the logistical strain, you know, like you have to fill out God knows how many forms, you got to make God knows how many phone calls because of the health insurance. There are other logistical matters, you got to do financial planning, and all this stuff. So there’s a lot of like, horrible grunt work you have to do all in the midst of this turmoil. But she did it.

I think the worst tendency that guys have is to say my wife is a saint, you know, because it’s like, I get to be the bad person, and she, you know. But my wife was like, a, just a good human being and a good person. And just someone who really did all the right things in an emergency, even though she was, you know, incredibly fatigued, and in shock, and didn’t quite know how she was gonna do it. But she put one foot in front of the other and I’ll never stop admiring her for that.

Obviously, it was a sudden trauma and a change of routine, but how much did your kids understand the dire straits that you were in?

I don’t know how much because they did not see me in the hospital, I believe, until I was out of a coma. But even then, the boys I saw me the hospital and realized this was not very, a very pleasant place to be, and I was connected all these tubes. And, and so they didn’t want to stay there for too long. And I think, you know, the kid move is to sort of play it off. Whether you’re consciously doing that or not, you just sort of, you know, you on the surface, it doesn’t look like it’s affected you much. And then it comes out later, or comes out some other time. And it came out with my older son. And I think it came out of my younger son at times too, and my daughter after the fact. So my wife did all that she could to essentially protect them from the really the details of it. Of course now it’s in book form, and my daughter wants to read it so I have to sit down with her and ask her, Do you really really want to know this stuff? Because if you don’t want to, that’s OK, too.

She’s a teenager now, right?

Yeah, she’s 15.

Yeah, so I mean, there’s probably some stuff in there she doesn’t want to know but she’s definitely old enough to handle it.

She’s old enough to handle it for sure. But also you know, she gets to be a carefree teenager. She should honestly get have the right to be as self-obsessed as any other teenager so you know, if it’s gonna cause her anxiety to read it. She’s had anxiety in the past, so if it’s going to cause her anxiety to read about me and think, Oh that could happen to me, this could happen to people I know just out of the blue because it really was out of the blue, there was no warning sign that this would happen to me. I don’t want that hanging around her if she feels like she is unable to put it out of her mind and just go back about her teen business after the fact.

There’s something very human in this book, which is, you were extremely fortunate just to survive and you write later in the book about this state of nothingness that that you entered for a while. But then you did live and it led to all of these challenges and you know, kind of picayune…

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