Gabrielle Giffords Still Struggling for Words, Staffer Says

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E.J. Montini talks candidly with a member of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' staff about her condition nearly six months after she was shot in the head:

Pia Carusone knew the day would come when the questions about her boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, would become more indelicate....

The inquiries will keep coming until the day Giffords decides if she will return to Congress.

Is she ready to do that?

No.

Is she close?

No.

The shooting near Tucson on Jan. 8 was horrific, and the grief over the six people killed and 13 wounded, including Giffords, was profound. So, the media backed off....

But Giffords is a public figure, about whom tidbits are not enough. So, I asked Giffords' staff if they could explain, in terms that even a newspaper columnist could understand, exactly where Giffords stands.

For example, how well is she able to communicate with them?

"We do a lot of inferring with her because her communication skills have been impacted the most," Carusone said. "If you think of it as someone who is able to communicate with you clearly, it is easy to test them. You can ask them a series of questions, and you can get clear answers back. Whereas with Gabby, what we've been able to infer and what we believe is that her comprehension is very good. I don't know about percentage-wise or not, but it's close to normal, if not normal."

Does her struggle to communicate mean that she's not using complete sentences?

"Exactly," Carusone said. "She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing. Add it all together, and she's able to express the basics of what she wants or needs. But, when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that's where she's had the trouble."

Is that frustrating for her?

"Absolutely," Carusone said. "When she is trying to come up with a word or a sentence and she's clearly struggling, putting everything she's got into it, and sometimes she's not successful. When she is, there's a relief that comes across her face that she has found the word. But when she can't come up with that, it is absolute frustration."...

Given all that, what is the blunt assessment of Giffords, right now, five months after having been shot in the head?

"She's living. She's alive. But if she were to plateau today, and this was as far as she gets, it would not be nearly the quality of life she had before," Carusone said. "There's no comparison. All that we can hope for is that she won't plateau today and that she'll keep going and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here."

Read the full story at The Arizona Republic.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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