In a speech full of heart-wrenching moments last night, President Obama went off script to describe the condition of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head on Saturday in Arizona by Jared Loughner. “Gabby opened her eyes,” announced the president. “So I can tell you, she knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey.” The camera showed Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, embracing Michelle Obama, visibly moved by the support not only in the room, but worldwide. Now, more detailed reports are coming out describing the miraculous hospital scene, which included New York Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, along with Kelly and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. It’s the sort of uplifting story that makes these incomprehensible tragedies bearable — a moment to share, even for those suffering from a difference.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), gaggling in the Air Force One press cabin with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), on the return from Tucson from Andrews: “We were very excited that we were even going to have the chance of getting to visit her hospital room. … And when we came in the room, the doctor was there, her parents were there, Mark is there, and the Speaker — Speaker Pelosi and Debbie and I went in. … And then Debbie and I started joking about all the things we were going to do after she got better. And we were holding her hand and she was responding to our hand-holding. She was rubbing our hands and gripping our hands so … we knew she could hear and understand what we were saying and she moved her leg, and so we knew she was responding. And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle.
“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up … ”
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: “And she didn’t at first.”
GILLIBRAND: “… When you’re watching her eyes, she’s really trying to focus. Like you could see she hadn’t opened her eyes in days. And then instead of giving the thumbs up, she literally raises her whole arm, like this … It was unbelievable. And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 13, 2011