Posted by: counselorcarmella | February 23, 2012

Book Review: In An Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing by Lee and Bob Woodruff

“In An Instant:A Family’s Journey of Love  and Healing”  is the compelling story of Lee and Bob Woodruff. I found out a  little about Bob while following  the progress of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she sufferred a traumatic brain injury as a result of being shot.  Bob was a journalist for ABC.  He’d worked up to  co anchor of World News Tonight after the death of Peter Jennings. After being co anchor for almost a month, Bob  experienced a devastating  brain injury while covering events in  Iraq. The vehicle he was in was hit by  an IED. That was January of 2006.  Lee and Bob tell the story of their years as a couple before that date and  Lee goes into detail about the first five weeks after Bob’s injury, when he was in a coma with a very uncertain prognosis.  They also touch more generally on the recovery process after he woke up and how their lives have changed  as a result of everything that’s happened. 
In alternating voices, Lee and Bob tell the back story of their marriage. Its clear from the beginning that the excitement of new places and  different experiences was important to Bob.  When he met Lee, he wasn’t looking for a commitment or a serious relationship, but he also realized he might always regret it if he let this woman  go.  He writes of Lee, “Very early on in our relationship I would get a sensation in my heart when Lee walked into the room, and I still feel it to this day. I call it a “pang,” and it’s the feeling of my heart turning over, a little flip, the physical manifestation of love.”  While traveling in Peru for several weeks, Bob realized he wanted to make things official with Lee and create a life with her.
Lee knew from the beginning that she was marrying an ambitious man and that they might not have the most “settled” lives. Bob  had studied to be a lawyer and practiced for a little while, but  life offerred him some exciting opportunities that would lead him to move in a different direction. They describe their time as newly weds living in China while Bob taught  law to Chinese students.  He got very involved in the political and social issues going on there at the time and this seems to have fueled Bob’s fascination for journalism and reporting from  “where the action was.”
They go on to describe Bob’s  journalism career and building their family.  Its obvious that the  Woodruff’s went through some difficult times when Bob was on the road and Lee was  settling in new place after new place and  making decisions as a single parent. Sometimes, it  kind of seems as  though Bob is being selfish with his choices, but Lee knows how important his career is to him. He praises her  several times throughout the book for  being so strong and putting up with the kind of life they were living. She admits to worrying about him at times. Their marriage was also  tested by fertility issues and painful  losses  of unborn babies. It is clear that neither of them expected things to be perfect and that they would communicate  about whatever was going on. Their marriage was  clearly a solid one, and they made the most of the time they could spend together as a couple and  all together with their children.  Its obvious that Bob loved his family and feels as though he’s being pulled in different directions at times.
Their strong connection as a couple, along with  coming from solid families and having a supportive network of  extended family and friends were crucial when  their lives suddenly changed in January of 2006. Lee showed incredible strength as she  got practical details handled and flew to Germany to be with her husband until he could be moved to the US.  Ultimately, Bob  wound up  being able to go through a lot of his post coma rehab in New York, which  made it easier on them as a family. Until then, though, there was a lot of traveling  between husband  and children for Lee.  She had family and friends who made sure the kids were  doing school, extracurriculars, and  as much normal life activities as possible.  She wanted to be with them, but needed to be with Bob, too.    
Were it not for the immediate medical intervention  of those who  are  familiar with  brain trauma and head injuries, Bob probably would not have survived.  She entered the world of intensive care, neurosurgery, and  uncertainty. Lee describes events during the five weeks she waited for Bob to come out of a coma. She describes seeing him for the first time, hooked up to  tubes and machines and with  part of his skull missing.  She talks about the vital support of girlfriends and  Bob’s brothers  during that time. She  talks about her own  emotional journey and how it was to  sit and talk to an unresponsive, disfigured husband day after day.
She learned early on that, even though  things seemed the same from one day to the next on the outside, Bob’s brain was working to  heal from the inside out. She  had to  wait and wonder in regards to all the things that might prove to be wrong once he woke up.  Would he be able to walk, talk, understand?  Would he remember her and their kids?  Would he be able to work again? Would  her life become about  taking care of a husband who functioned like a child? Lee grappled with all of these possibilities as she learned more about  how someone with the type of injuries Bob had might be different  as a result.
She talked  to him and touched him, put up pictures of  his family near his bed, and  played DVDs of  family videos for him. Other family members and friends did the ssame, trying to connect with him and help him feel safe, and also to stimulate his brain.   Lee had to make decisions about his care, and be told about all the things that could go wrong whenever they faced a new surgery or at any point throughout the recovery process.  She had to  try and explain things as best she could to their children, who were young teenagers and five year old twins.  She  had to decide when they would see their Dad and  how to stay connected with them herself. Lee had a lot of medical and social support as she made these decisions but final calls were hers.
The day  Bob wakes up is obviously a huge deal. That day, and the  next several, are described with quite a bit of detail. It is obvious from early on that, though he  is struggling with a lot of memory and language issues, the “real Bob” is still in there.   Bob and Lee describe  some of his recovery once he woke up, including his struggles with   language skills, ongoing pain, and  the ups and downs of  physical and mental recovery.  That part of the book is less detailed.  They don’t go into the day to day aspects of  his physical and cognitive therapies.  They do stress that there were steps forward and  steps back and  that it was a difficult process.  This includes emotional  difficulties as well as physical ones. Overall, it seems that Bob recovered more of his former self than anyone expected. 
This experience has made the Woodruffs more sensitive to the plight of soldiers who experience traumatic brain injuries and they work to raise awareness and financial contributions for these   individuals and their families.  They know that not everyone has the  medical care, resources, and  support of family and friends that Bob did.  Not everyone who experiences a TBI is famous and well-known across the country.   Many  sufferers sustained their injuries while fighting for our country and now have the challenges of TBI plus  depression or post traumatic stress disorder.  There is a high divorce statistic among couples where one of them has experienced a TBI.  Sometimes, the  individual is just too different and does things like behave inappropriately in social situations or even become violent.  Spouses can become overwhelmed by caretaking responsibilities and the emotional  roller coaster that goes along with such a task.  It seems that the Woodruffs are stronger as a couple because of what they’ve been through together.      
This is a book about  hope and hospitals, about love and family and devotion, and about  getting through one day at a time.  It is about the realities of  TBI and the brain’s often miraculous capacity to heal. There’s still so much we don’t know about it, but neuroscientists are making progress all the time.  This is also a book about support an the ways loved ones can make so much  difference. Lee needed  practical help, emotional support, people around who  knew what she was going through. She also needed people to laugh and cry with her and people to help protect her and her family from  those who  just wanted  to be able to break a story or leak a picture.  She also needed  wise counsel from medical professionals about Bob’s  condition, long-term outcomes, and  what was happening from day to day. She also  needed help understanding how to help her children and sought out  feedback from knowledgeable professionals. The kids handled the situation in different ways, based on age and personality, of course, and this is described as well.
Most of all, this  is a book about a wife’s loyalty to her husband, even when the outcome was far from certain. To me, more than anything, this is the story of a marriage where vows of sickness and health, better or worse, til death do us part became very literal. This is what impressed me most.

Lee decided she would love Bob no matter what condition he was in.  She was glad he was alive and felt thankful he’d made it through  something that could have killed him.  She was committed to doing whatever she had to do for him.  She knew the man he had been and  that made her sure of standing by whoever he would be  as a result of  the damage to his brain.  This surely wasn’t easy and  there were times when she was afraid and  unsure if she could handle all the responsibilities that might land on her, but she was committed to doing so.  I have  tremendous respect for this intelligent woman who  knew what she valued, what she needed to get through such a difficult time, and  what was ultimately most important.  



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