“Every day, now, is a ‘free day.'” I can relate to that. In fact, those are the exact words I’ve been using ever since my mountain biking accident, which resulted in a seriously fractured skull and shattered cheekbone. I still have a good-size indentation in my right temple and large scars on my neck and head. How does it make me feel? I say it again, every day is a free day… thank you. Now on to the NYT story:
From the October 25, 2007, New York Times:
Recovering From Injury, Returning to TV, Speaking for the Wounded
By JACQUES STEINBERG
In the summer of 2006, as Israeli and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon were clashing, Bob Woodruff desperately wished to fly there to report for ABC News. Never mind that it had been less than six months since a roadside explosion in Iraq pocked his brain with shrapnel and other debris, almost killing him.
“I couldn’t even remember the word ‘Lebanon,’” Mr. Woodruff, 46, said in an interview this week in his office at ABC News, reflecting on the months after he emerged from a 36-day, medically induced coma. “I couldn’t remember the names ‘Israel’ and ‘Hezbollah.’”
Now, though, Mr. Woodruff has recovered to the point that he has returned to work full time as a correspondent for ABC News on its various programs, including “World News” and “Nightline.” In recent weeks viewers have seen him reporting from Syria (on his search for the interpreter who helped save his life in Iraq), as well as from Sioux Falls, S.D. (on the rehabilitation of Senator Tim Johnson, himself recovering from a brain hemorrhage), and Bethesda, Md. (on troops who suffered brain and other injuries as traumatic as his own). In the spring he was in Cuba; two weeks ago he was in Angola for an ABC documentary about Chinese influence around the world that will be broadcast next year.
While he is not yet comfortable reporting live — he still struggles to find the right word at times, or he substitutes one (like syllable) when he means another (synonym) — he has traveled an unimaginable distance from those dark, early days last year, when he would look at a picture of scissors and be unable to say what it was. He is also playing pickup soccer again on weekends, much to his wife’s regret.
“You can see why I think every day, now, is a free day,” he said, his voice soft but firm. The most visible reminder of his wounds is a small dent near his left temple. His wavy brown hair and scalp on the left side of his head conceal a plastic shell the size of a small coconut that helps protect his brain, in place of a portion of skull he lost in the attack.
These days Mr. Woodruff has embarked on an unofficial second career, as a voice and fund-raiser for wounded soldiers, particularly those with severe head injuries. The most public manifestation of that effort will come on Nov. 7, when Bruce Springsteen, Robin Williams, Conan O’Brien and Lewis Black will appear at a charity concert for wounded soldiers at Town Hall in Manhattan. The principal beneficiary is the Bob Woodruff Family Fund, which Mr. Woodruff began with his wife, Lee, and brother David.
The event was conceived by Caroline Hirsch, the founder of the comedy club Carolines on Broadway, who reached out to the Woodruffs. Called “Stand Up for Heroes,” it is part of Ms. Hirsch’s weeklong New York Comedy Festival. (Information is available at nycomedyfestival.com.)
At the Woodruffs’ request President Bush and two former presidents — the president’s father and Bill Clinton — lent their names to the honorary committee, as did other elected officials. With a top admission price of $100,000 (which gets a company 20 “premium” seats and “prominent signage”), the event is projected to net more than $1 million. Some of that money is to be given directly to soldiers, with the remainder divvied among a handful of groups providing varied support services.
Ms. Woodruff has taken those efforts a step further, appearing with some lawmakers (including Hillary Rodham Clinton) and lobbying others in support of bills intended to make it easier for returning soldiers to get better access to the sophisticated care they need. In pursuing such work, which she characterized as bipartisan, she said she was conscious of not hindering her husband’s ability to continue to report on issues like health care that concern returning veterans.
“We have to get some of these rules changed for these guys, to get them disability benefits, death benefits,” Ms. Woodruff, a freelance writer (and best-selling author, with her husband, of “In an Instant,” the account of their ordeal), said in a separate interview. “There are a lot of great politicians working to change this stuff. If we throw our weight behind it — and this can’t be Bob, but I can. I’m not beholden to anyone.”
Mr. Woodruff said he had little worry that by shining a journalistic light on matters like the shortcomings in care at veterans hospitals — as he has done in several reports — he could be perceived as doing the bidding of a particular, political side.
“People use the word advocate like it’s almost impossible, as a journalist, to be an advocate of anything,” he said. “We all advocate something, as long as you feel comfortable that what you’re reporting is truthful. We’re all following stories we think are important. Are you advocating when you do that? Perhaps you are.”
David Westin, the president of ABC News, said he could not imagine a situation in which Mr. Woodruff’s objectivity about returning veterans would be compromised.
“We have a debt we owe as a country, whatever one thinks about the war,” Mr. Westin said. “Given the nature of this war and the medical improvements, that debt is going to be paid off over more than a generation. Bob’s reporting on that part of the war is terribly powerful.”
Still, ABC has insisted on certain journalistic safeguards, including that both Woodruffs submit any plans for speaking engagements to the network’s standards and practices unit.
For all the joy he feels at returning to reporting, Mr. Woodruff said that it was hard at times to watch Charles Gibson serve as anchor of “World News.” Mr. Woodruff had just begun that job (along with his co-anchor, Elizabeth Vargas) less than a month before his accident.
“I don’t really feel anger about it,” he said. “I do feel really frustrated.”
And yet, he said, he was elated that Mr. Gibson was “winning,” a reference to his program’s slim lead in the ratings over “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” in recent months. Mr. Woodruff also hinted at the possibility of his working back to an anchor job some day, a development that would have seemed impossible as recently as a few months ago.
“The good news is that I’m getting my ability to do journalism again,” he said. “It’s probably not going to be 100 percent in the same way it was before. But in some ways I’m 120 percent better than I was before. My wife has even said I was kind of a jerk sometimes, and now I’m not.”
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