Eye of the storm


One could say that Darcy Frey, the University’s Robert Vare visiting writer in residence, puts himself in stressful situations. But that would be an understatement. For a New York Times Magazine story, which he read from yesterday at the Franke Institute, Frey spent a month observing the newborn intensive care unit at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

While reporting the 1995 piece—“Does Anyone Here Think This Baby Can Live?”—he daily witnessed doctors deciding the fate of babies so small they could be “held like a bunch of grapes in a nurse’s hand.” The doctors, he told the audience of about 15 students and staff, tended to premature babies, “lying froglike and immobile,” with the “precision of a man building a ship in a bottle.”

Laughing, Frey recalled how the New York Times sent him to the air-traffic-control center that governs Newark, La Guardia, and Kennedy airports—“for a lighter piece.” The staff he encountered there wore a “savage, bug-eyed look,” so they appeared “like men on the verge of drowning,” constantly asking themselves if this would “be the day of the their unmaking.”

Poised at a podium, he gave the impression he’d be good to have around in a chaotic situation. Frey, who’d watched 30 high-risk births in 30 days and air traffic controllers “curse and twitch like a bunch of Tourettes sufferers,” maintained a calm presence as he made his characters and imagery come alive.

Meredith Meyer, ’07

May 4, 2005