My schedule doesn't allow me to watch the evening news shows much anymore, but I'm old enough to remember Walter Cronkite's last couple of years as CBS news anchor. After Cronkite left the anchor chair back in 1981, I remember watching ABC's World News Tonight with my parents. While Jennings could never take the place of Walter, he seemed like a dedicated newsman who took his job seriously and always did his best.
When Jennings died in August of 2005, I couldn't help but wonder who would fill his shoes. After nearly eight months of speculation, ABC announced that Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas would take over the anchoring duties at World News Tonight. On January 29, 2006, just 27 days after being given the coveted co-anchoring job, Woodruff was injured while reporting in Iraq. At the time of the attack, Woodruff was embedded with the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, traveling in an Iraqi MT-LB. Woodruff had his head sticking up out of the hatch when a roadside bomb exploded. Bob suffered multiple shrapnel wounds and a massive traumatic brain injury.
The book In An Instant: A Family's Journey of Love and Healing, is about the Woodruff's titanic struggle to overcome Bob's sudden injuries and stay intact as a family. First released in February of 2007, In An Instant was recently released in paperback with a new afterword.
I approached the book with some trepidation. While I certainly admire Bob and his family for his courage, I couldn't help but think of the thousands of soldiers who have suffered similar injuries, never had their stories told or reaped the financial benefits of having a best seller.
That aside, that fact that Bob is alive to tell his story is amazing. As it turned out, In An Instant had more to offer than I first suspected. The story is told in alternating chapters by Bob and Lee. A greater portion of the story is told by Lee, simply because Bob was in a medically induced coma for five weeks prior to fully regaining consciousnesses. While the couple both recount the weeks just after Bob's accident, it is Lee's recollections that pack the most punch. She describes in vivid detail the shock of hearing the news, and her own response as she tried to stay strong in the face of great sadness and uncertainty.
The most interesting part of In An Instant are the details of Woodruff's recovery. Understandably, the process was far from easy. The accompanying photographs tell a story in themselves — once a vigorous, healthy man, recognizable to millions, smiling awkwardly into the camera with two of his children on either side, his face scarred, his head dented — how quickly Woodruff's life changed that day in 2006. This once virile man, who had traveled all over the world, had to undergo a cranioplasty to rebuild his skull. After that, Bob had to relearn basic life skills, including walking and talking. His progress was painstaking but amazing. Reading the details of what Bob and Lee went through during those months is sure to inspire readers.
In An Instant is in no way a political statement. The book does not take a stand on the war in Iraq. The only thing that Bob Woodruff says is that for him covering war is "a strange addiction," and war is "an affliction of the human race." Neither Woodruff expands further on these sentiments. Lee Woodruff does admit to some strain in their marriage because of Bob's war correspondent duties, but generally puts a rosy glow on things.
In An Instant carries an upbeat and positive message of the power of love in recovery. While Bob Woodruff's recovery is amazing and deserves plaudits, the book doesn't contain a lot of soul searching. If the Woodruffs have any regrets or second thoughts you won't read about them in this book. While In An Instant is a wonderful read, I can't help but wonder how many soldiers could have been saved and how many families could have stayed together if they had access to the same level of medical care as the Woodruffs.
To that end, the Woodruffs have established a charitable trust to benefit the 1.4 million Americans affected each year by TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). In the book they mention that many such men and women in the care of the U.S. military medical system "are not receiving appropriate cognitive rehabilitation, for whatever reason." It is great to see the Woodruffs giving back to the country in such a positive way.
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