Shot at Tucson: Ashleigh Burroughs on Hospitals, Gabby Giffords & Recovery

6 years ago

(Editor's Note: Blogger Ashleigh Burroughs was shot at Rep. Gabby Gifford's Tuscon media event in January. She is now recovering at home. -Rita)

I can still smell it - that first breath of air in my driveway as I balanced on one leg and took in the mountains and the front door and everything in between. I'd been hospitalized for 11 days, inhaling and exhaling the air of injury and pain and medication through long days and
sleepless nights. It felt like I'd never been anywhere else.

Then the car door opened and I was home, and I stood there, inhaling and exhaling the dry desert and the blue sky and the fact that I was there, alive.

(Credit Image: © Jack Kurtz/

Gabby snuck out of the hospital Wednesday afternoon, and I'm glad she did. When I was discharged, my husband, my girlfriend and our social worker and our nurse rolled me to a side entrance, away from the front door's cameras and microphones and the possibility of falling on my face in front of the
nation as I transferred from the wheelchair to the car seat. Public humiliation wasn't on my To Do List that afternoon. I can only imagine the media scrum if America's Congresswoman's departure had leaked. Some things you need to do without an audience.

Once we got home, the NBC camera crew which was filming B-roll for my Dateline appearance stood respectfully at a distance as I raised my eyes to the heavens and sniffled. At the time, their presence was vaguely intrusive. Now, 5 months later, I watch myself on the DVR and I am reminded of the progress I have made. I remember what I couldn't do then and what I can do now and I am impressed with myself. Some things need to be remembered.

At the time, I was disgusted. It took me far too long to get from the car to the gate, and I felt the need for a nap by the time I reached the front door. I'm not even thinking about navigating the threshold or the throw-rugs or finding a chair that fit my swollen and shattered
self. My house used to fit me perfectly. That day, it was a series of obstacles set up to annoy and antagonize me. Some things shouldn't change, and that includes how a favorite chair fits at the end of a long day.

Rehab is hard, and being home feels great. It's easier to start the day when the oatmeal is made to your exact specifications. Punishing your healing body and brain is unpleasant at the best of times; seeing your own photos, sleeping on your own sheets, cuddling your own pillow, hearing the usual birds in their usual crooning at their usual time of day ... these familiar things help.

Rehab also hurts ... a lot. The tree which needs pruning couldn't be seen from my hospital window, but it glares at me as I sit at my desk, unable to climb the ladder and wield the saw.

There's irrigation tubing floating atop the stone mulch, and I can't get down to bury it. A family of 5 red breasted little brown things are flitting around the branches of the palo verde, but it would take more energy than I possess to sneak up on them from the backyard, carrying
the camera and the bird book and the tripod. Before getting shot these were easy-peasy; now considering even one of them is a major event.

And this is just the physical piece of it. My emotional roller-coaster needs to be taken in for adjustments. Send the mechanic out to fix me. I am teary at the drop of a 9-year-old's smile. Solicitations for two-for-ones at the water park leave me yearning for Christina-Taylor's hand in mine, her slippery self on the other side of the floating inner tube, as we discussed fashion accessories and good government, never imagining for a moment that bullets would touch our lives.

Gabby is home with Mark, in his house in Texas, snug as a bug in a rug, I hope. She's surrounded by people who love her and people who will tend to her and her rehab will continue. And continue. And continue. My hip will heal faster than her brain and I am far from finished. My therapist continues to torture me and two different pilates studios are
creating space where there is bunching and none of it is easy. Not at all.
Rehab exposed me to a different kind of pain. It's not broken bone pain or nerve damage pain, at least not just those kinds of aches. It's all that and more, because it shouldn't have happened to us and it did and it's wrong and I want it to just go away right now. There's an emotional overlay that a regular hip replacement wouldn't have. I keep telling the world that it is askew ... it's not listening.

I am a scurrier, a hurrier, a first-to-the-door kind of girl. My body never got in my way, and I took good care of it in return. The world intervened, and suddenly the simplest things have become complex. What was easy is now impossible today, possibly possible tomorrow, but always requires more effort than it did before.

Before was a panoply of possibilities - a motorcycle ride into the desert, lunch with constituents, yoga with a friend. Now is a series of limitations, restrictions, obstacles. I used to do what I wanted to when I wanted to and my body said, sure. Now, it's not paying much attention to my wants. It has its own agenda and it's sticking to it. What used to be is just that - used to be.

Instead, now I am using my core's 3rd and 4th quadrants to raise my leg off the floor and onto my bed when all I want to do is jump in and hug my husband. I am grounding my good leg and settling into my injured leg and taking long strides and swinging my arms when all I want to do is not think about anything as I walk from the kitchen to the couch.

The wheelchair is gone, as are the walker and the cane. It's just me and my body ... and all of Tucson ... and the network news ... and I'm just me, not an elected representative of the 8th District in Arizona.

Welcome to the outside world, Gabby. Watch out for the potholes and the expectations and the disappointments. There are a lot of them. But if you look closely, if you glance at the pictures of then and peek in the mirror now, you might just find something to make you smile.

I couldn't wish you anything more.

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