In the past few days, we've heard a lot of good news about Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot through the head outside a Tuscon Safeway two weeks ago. We've learned that she's opened her eyes, stood up, scrolled through the photo display of an iPad, and, as of today, been moved to a rehabilitation facility in Texas.
These items are all part of the larger story of Giffords's astonishing survival and recovery. And it's all heartening stuff. But, says Chris Rovzar at New York magazine, this is one story we probably shouldn't be following too closely, or too optimistically. "Her complete recovery is very, very far from certain," writes Rovzar. "And the press's breathless coverage of every daily improvement has led to expectations that will almost surely lead to disappointment."
Rovzar goes on to note that while "it's easy to imagine a sunny scenario in which Giffords makes a quick and complete recovery, returns promptly to work in Congress, and maybe runs for higher office one day," the truth is that no one knows what Giffords's path back to health will be like. It may be difficult. It will surely be long. She may not recover fully--right now, it's just not possible to say. Her neurosurgeon has told reporters that "it's not uncommon for people to initially improve, then plateau." And Rovzar adds that "plateau or no plateau, her family may well decide it is in her better interest to quit Congress while she recuperates."
As if to underscore how removed we are from the facts, Rovzar points out that we don't even know what Giffords looks like right now:
It will likely be at least four months... before doctors can replace the portion of her skull they removed to relieve swelling. Hopefully by then her fractured eye socket will have healed as well. But both injuries mean that the lovely young woman will never look quite the same. In the absence of up-to-date images, we've been treated to the same stock images of Giffords's perky, smiling face... Even with the proper preparation, seeing what she looks like even halfway through her rehab could come as a shock.
Gabrielle Giffords may still "make a full recovery," Rovzar concludes. "But it would be an additional, needless tragedy if the breathless coverage of her rehabilitation eventually turned sour, or if the inevitable setbacks and delays made her already amazing recovery seem any less like a miracle. Hopefully, in rehab, she'll be able to recover away from the scrutiny of the 24-hour news cycle, and when she does emerge, we will still be surprised by something wonderful."