Monday, April 11, 2011
Newsweek's Peter J. Boyer has an in-depth look at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' recovery. An excerpt:
Because of the near-mystical way in which the brain heals itself, it is impossible for doctors to predict precisely what the new normal ultimately will be for a given patient. Even so, Kim, the neurosurgeon, remains optimistic. This is partly because the bullet that went through Giffords' brain injured the left hemisphere, which controls speech and movement on the right side of the body. Partial paralysis may result, but in the context of recovering from brain injury, doctors place less emphasis on that than on other factors. "Motor weakness, for example, is not that big a deal, compared with cognitive things," Kim says. "So, first of all, is your personality going to be like it was before? Are you going to have the same kind of mental abilities, and think through things, and understand? And the social-relationship part—how sensitive are you to other people's emotions? Do you want to relate? A lot of that function, it turns out, is in the right side of the brain."
In Giffords' case, the answer to Kim's questions about cognitive ability is an emphatic yes. "We joke around, and I tell her all the funny things that happen in Washington, and she laughs," says Pia Carusone, Giffords' chief of staff. "When we say her personality is there, I mean, she's like 100 percent there." Carusone, who travels to Houston each week, says that Giffords communicates with her through "a combination of body language, personality, and speech. It's some words, it's expressions on her face."
At times, members of her family and staff have had to try to surmise her wishes, asking themselves, "What would Gabby want?" They also have had to decide what to tell her about what happened and when. In the early weeks of her recovery, Giffords apparently believed that she'd been involved in an auto accident. Her family, friends, and staff carefully censored themselves when visiting her, avoiding any talk of the horrific events of Jan. 8. When her Arizona staff made a best-wishes video to send to Giffords, her district director, Ron Barber, who was severely wounded in the attack, carefully positioned himself on-camera to disguise his injuries.
Soon after Giffords was transferred to Houston, Kelly consulted with the doctors there about what he should tell her. ''Her neuropsychologist at TIRR early on talked to us about the importance of her knowing what happened to her," he recalls. "I mean, it's important for her recovery." But Kelly still grappled with how much to tell her. He visits his wife every morning, and, when she has a break from her rehab routine, he reads her the newspaper. His custom had been to censor himself as he read. But one morning a few weeks ago, Giffords could see that Kelly was skipping over some material, and she grabbed at the paper. He decided then to tell her that she had been shot.
"So she knows why she's there, and what her injury is, and some of the details about her situation,'' he says.
But Giffords still doesn't know everything. She doesn't know that among the dead were a 9-year-old girl, her beloved young staffer, Gabe Zimmerman, and her friend, federal Judge John Roll. "When she starts asking for more details, we're going to tell her," Kelly says. "But she hasn't asked that specific question yet."