CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — Will he fly or not?
There are hints that astronaut Mark Kelly will blast into space in April, as commander of Endeavour’s final voyage. That would mean leaving his wounded wife, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to continue her rehab without him for at least a few weeks.
She has limited movement on her right side, and no one has said if she can speak. She was shot in the head not quite a month ago in an attack by a gunman.
Kelly tweeted on Wednesday:
“Today was a huge day for GG. Lots of progress!”
Kelly’s decision to take a risky rocket ride so early in her recovery may seem startling. But those who know the couple, as well as doctors and rehabilitation experts, say it’s a personal choice. And for this modern, high-powered couple, not an extreme one.
“I don’t think he can lose either way,” said Dr. Louann Brizendine, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco and author of “The Male Brain” and “The Female Brain.”
If he decides to go, she said, people will understand that it’s for a short period of time. “It’s a one-time opportunity perhaps for him. It’s what he’s trained to do, and also he would only leave if he knew she was in super-good care,” Brizendine said. “So I don’t think he’ll get terribly criticized if he goes.”
On the other hand, if he stays, “he would get a lot of praise and a lot of kudos, for staying by her bedside,” she said.
Research shows a strong social support network — family, friends, church or similar — is crucial for rehabilitating patients and improves the outcome.
But that doesn’t mean a spouse has to be there 24-7, 365 days, said Dr. David Lacey, medical director of acute inpatient rehab services at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.
“You also have to look at what’s normal for the couple,” Lacey said. “If it were my parents who had almost never been apart for the entire 50-some years they were married, all of a sudden changing that structure would be a pretty dramatic impact.”
But what’s normal for Kelly and Giffords, through their three-year marriage, is spending a few weeks apart at a time — he in Houston, she in Washington or her home state of Arizona. However, Kelly, 46, kept vigil at her side in the days immediately after the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson. The rampage outside a supermarket left six dead and 13 injured.
By now, Giffords, 40, should be at a stage where there’s little risk for complications, Lacey noted.
“He has to search deep how he feels about where he’s going to be emotionally five, 10, 20 years from now because she’s going to live through this now,” Lacey said. “No matter what her outcome, whether it’s very positive or not so positive, he’s going to be in this for the long haul. What occurs during that two- to three-four week span of the training and the flight may be insignificant over the next 10 years. Either way.”
The ultimate goal of rehabilitation, experts say, is for the patient and family to get back to a near-normal lifestyle.
The person who knows Kelly best — his identical twin brother Scott — said from orbit Wednesday that Mark is a logical, thoughtful guy who is weighing all the considerations. The two have discussed the options in depth, and Mark is leaning one way, his brother said. NASA management will need to sign off on it, if he decides to fly, said Scott, commander of the International Space Station.
A decision should come “fairly soon,” he told The Associated Press. He declined to elaborate, but stressed the decision will be a good one.
His remarks hinted that his brother will decide to resume training for Endeavour’s flight to the space station.
“If he does choose, and NASA management chooses, for him to fly this mission … I am absolutely 100 percent confident that he will have no problem fulfilling his responsibilities the same way as if this incident would have never occurred,” Scott Kelly told the AP. He said their background as Navy pilots help them separate their personal and work lives.