Wednesday, January 23, 2013
In 2006, Bob Woodruff was on top of the world of television journalism. He had just been named co-anchor of ABC's "World News Tonight" following the death of broadcasting legend Peter Jennings. Woodruff had a loving wife and four children and was renowned for his foreign correspondence. But on January 29, while working on a report from Iraq, the tank he was riding in was struck by a roadside bomb, and his life and everyone's around him was forever changed.
Woodruff sustained nearly-fatal wounds, including a traumatic brain injury, and was comatose for over a month. He had damage to the parts of his brain that governed speech and language; it was initially unclear whether he would ever be able to talk or write again, let alone return to broadcast news. But his recovery stunned everyone, including himself.
Bob's wife, Lee, a freelance writer, is the co-author of "In an Instant". She and her husband each provide short segments from their own point of view, describing their courtship and marriage, their careers, their children, their years abroad as well as in various U.S. cities, and the details leading up to and following Bob's injury. Bob's reporter instincts guide his mostly factual accounts, while Lee fills in the emotional response to these facts. Between the two, we get a well-rounded inside view of the hardships and the joys of their lives as well as interesting perspective on some of the biggest news events of the past 25 years. We also get a firsthand account of what it is like to survive a traumatic brain injury, along with what the spouse and other caregivers go through.
Bob's first career was not journalism, but law. He and Lee attended the same college but didn't start dating until they ran into each other in New York in 1986. Lee was a successful marketing executive by the time they married in 1988, but she agreed to move to China with Bob so he could begin teaching American law to Bejing students. They had no way of knowing that they would be present during the revolution in Tiananmen Square, and that this would be Bob's introduction to journalism.
While the upside of being a foreign correspondent is the excitement of being where news is happening and bringing an exclusive to viewers, the downside is limited time with spouse and family. Lee recounts the challenge of being married to a man who might be called upon at any time to go anyplace in the world, the difficulties they had conceiving children, feeling at times like a single parent after the kids were born, having to move to new cities frequently to accommodate Bob's career while still trying to maintain her own. But she also describes her adoration of the man with a brilliant mind and passion for living whose humor and love for their children matches her own.
It is ironic that Bob Woodruff was hurt in a war zone because it happened to be the very place most equipped to treat the wounds he sustained. Had he been stateside, he would not have been near medical personnel familiar with this type of traumatic brain injury who could have acted fast enough to save him. Doctors had to remove a large portion of his skull to accommodate the swelling of his brain. But because he was fairly young, age 44, physically fit and quite intelligent, he stood a better chance of recovery than someone who was not these things prior to being injured.
The book is not divided into chapters, just segments with a location, a date and either Bob's or Lee's name depending on who narrates the segment. The timeline jumps around quite a bit, like a movie featuring flashbacks. I have cognitive issues of my own, so I found it a bit disconcerting that it wasn't in chronological order, but with some effort, I was able to keep events straight in my mind.
While most of us will not experience a traumatic brain injury firsthand, there is one message we can all relate to: appreciate what you have right now, because you never know what changes lie ahead. Lee and Bob have suffered and overcome much, with humor and affection and hope. They demonstrate that strength comes in many forms and that we possess much more of it than we realize.
Title: In an Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing
Author: Lee and Bob Woodruff
Publisher: Random House
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