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The Nation

March 1, 2011

Giffords aide slowly healing, both body and mind

TUSCON, Ariz. — Ron Barber takes the metal cane and asks, "So where do you want me to go?"

"In the kitchen, to the sink," physical therapist Deborah Perry replies.

With Perry close behind and wife Nancy watching nearby, the 65-year-old aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords inches his way across the painted concrete floor, grimacing and groaning softly as he lifts his numb left foot. After about 10 feet, he turns and heads back.

"Do you feel confident?" Perry asks.

"I think so," Barber says, panting a bit. "I don't feel like I'm off balance or anything."

Baby steps, to be sure, but Barber is pleased. When he smiles, the deep indentation in the center of his left cheek makes an already friendly face look downright jolly.

"My daughters say I have a dimple," Barber says of the mark left by the bullet. "My youngest daughter has a dimple, pretty much in the same place. But I certainly wouldn't recommend this method of getting one."

Seven weeks after a gunman opened fire during Giffords' meet-and-greet in a Safeway grocery store parking lot, Barber's physical wounds have largely healed. But he knows it is the invisible ones that will take the most time to mend, if they ever do.

"What I deal with frequently is just the tape running in my head — sometimes in dreams, sometimes during the day — of what happened," he says. "And that's, that's very difficult to remember and to see that."

Besides Giffords, Barber, her district director, was the most seriously injured of the 13 survivors of the Jan. 8 attack. Six died.

Today, a man who had never had surgery or even been in a hospital for a serious illness spends his days with pain meds and acupuncture, long naps and grueling sessions of physical and emotional therapy.

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