Editor’s Note: This is a White House transcript of the Air Force One conversation between Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s Congress pals Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as they returned from Tucson with the President. We’ve edited it due to length. Read all the way, though–it’s quite amazing.
Q: So tell us what it was like in there. You were just standing around a friend of yours and — just put it in your terms.
SEN. GILLIBRAND: Okay, well, I’ll go, and then you’ll go — okay. Well, we were very excited that we were even going to have the chance of getting to visit her hospital room. We didn’t know when we first came whether we had that opportunity. And so when we did have the chance, we were so excited to get to see her. And when we came in the room, the doctor was there, her parents were there, Mark is there, and the Speaker — Speaker Pelosi and Debbie and I went in.
And we just were so excited, so we were telling her how proud we were of her and how she was inspiring the whole nation with her courage and with her strength. And then Debbie and I started joking about all the things we were going to do after she got better. And we were holding her hand and she was responding to our hand-holding. She was rubbing our hands and gripping our hands so we could — she could really — we knew she could hear and understand what we were saying and she moved her leg, and so we knew she was responding. And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally.
You have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened
And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle. And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. And we didn’t — I didn’t know what that meant.
And so he said, “Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes.” And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling and she’s struggling and it’s a good — we couldn’t figure it out, maybe 30 seconds, where she’s really trying to get her eyes open, like doing this, this, this.
And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us.
And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up. And so we’re waiting and we’re waiting and –
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And she didn’t at first.
SEN. GILLIBRAND: And we just thought, okay — and you could watch — when you’re watching her eyes, she’s really trying to focus. Like you could see she hadn’t opened her eyes in days. And then instead of giving the thumbs up, she literally raises her whole arm like this — like this. It was unbelievable. And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him.
Such a moment
And so like — she was — it was such a moment. And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.
And so then they decided we had to go because it was a lot — (laughter) — of excitement for her and it was — we just told her how proud we were and how much we loved her and said we’d visit soon.
. . . . .
SEN. GILLIBRAND: Debbie has to tell you about what she said after because the way she — the way Debbie phrased it was I thought very amazing.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: It was just — really, it felt like a miracle. It felt like we were watching a miracle. And Kirsten is totally right — we just both wanted so badly to be there for her as her friends. We wanted to do — we wanted to be there for Mark and for her parents. And just the strength that you could see just flowing out of her to get — it was like she was trying to will her eyes open. It was just — I mean, it felt –
SEN. GILLIBRAND: Debbie, you should say about — when you had your children — that it was like the only experience that’s similar is when you have a child.
The most incredible feeling
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Exactly. The only way I could describe the feeling that we had, that I had, was other than the birth of my kids, this was the most incredible feeling, to see literally your — one of your closest friends just struggle to come back to you, to come back to her family, to come back to her friends. I mean, we know how strong Gabby is and you could see all the strength pouring out of her to touch her husband –
SEN. GILLIBRAND: And to tell us she’s there. Like she was — it was — you imagine this when you watch a movie, but it’s like she wanted to tell us, I’m here, I can hear you, I’m with you, and I appreciate everything you’re doing.
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: We told her — when Kirsten was talking to her, she said — because she and her husband had just gone and had pizza with Gabby and Mark, so she said, you know, come on — come on, Gabby, you got to get going here, we’re going to go out for pizza.
The last couple of summers, Gabby and Mark and Mark’s kids have vacationed with my family and I in New Hampshire. And I said, Gabby, we fully expect you to be up and ready to go to come back up to New Hampshire this summer, and that’s when she started to open her eye. And the Speaker was talking to her this whole time. We just kept alternately talking to her.
Really, really significant progress
And literally the doctor said, no, you don’t understand, this is really, really significant progress. He starts pounding out a message on his BlackBerry. Her mother and father are just crying. When we — when they finally pretty much kicked us out because, you know, obviously –
SEN. GILLIBRAND: It was a lot of excitement.
The impact of friendship
REP. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: A lot of excitement, she had to rest. We told her how much we loved her and we’d be back to see her and whatever she needed us to do, we’d be here for her. And we went out, Dr. Lemole, who is the one that’s been on TV and has been so good about explaining everything, he literally said to us, you know, I’ve discounted — on TV, I’ve discounted emotion being — and friendship and family — really, I’ve sort of discounted that as meaningless out loud. He said, I just witnessed the impact of friendship and what you guys — he said, you did this here today.
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