U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords will make it back to Congress "stronger and more committed than ever," her husband, Mark Kelly said Tuesday.
"I can almost guarantee you what her first event will be, and I hate saying this … I'd be shocked if the first thing she does is not 'Congress on Your Corner' at that Safeway," Kelly said.
Kelly spoke Tuesday to a group of Arizona print and online journalists at University Medical Center, where his wife remains in serious condition from an attempted assassination Jan. 8.
Kelly said he and Giffords had talked at least a dozen times about the danger of public appearances since "a year and a half ago when everything got really heated."
"She would say, 'You know, I'm somewhat concerned that at some point somebody is going to shoot me.' "
Kelly said he told his wife that she didn't have to hold public events, but that Giffords told him meeting with the public was an important part of her job.
On the day she was shot, Kelly was at his home in League City, Texas, near NASA's Johnson Space Center, where he is preparing to command the last U.S. space shuttle mission aboard the Endeavour, currently scheduled for April.
He had been talking to his daughter Claudia "about how many text messages she sent in a month when he received a phone call from Giffords' chief of staff, Pia Carusone, saying "Gabby's been shot."
"So I hung up, I had Claudia wake her sister and then I just couldn't believe it."
He said he called back to make sure, then called a friend with a private plane to get him to Tucson. "I think I was probably airborne in about an hour," he said.
The ensuing week is something of a blur, Kelly said, but his astronaut training kicked in.
"In a very odd way this feels a lot like a space-shuttle mission to me - a lot of decisions, a lot of long days, a lot of chaos."
Kelly said he just went into "that mode of being focused so I don't have to think about the other stuff."
His decisions have been guided at times by a voice in his head, that of his wife.
Doctors here have kept his wife alive and done everything right, he said, but he brought in outside experts partly because "I know that's what Gabby would want me to do. She's all about the team."
Likewise, he is attending every funeral and memorial service that does not conflict with moments like his wife's surgeries, "not only because I think it's the right thing to do, but you guys know my wife. What do you think her question is when she wakes up, if she found out - 'You mean you didn't go to their funerals?' "
Giffords isn't speaking yet, he said, but she is awake for more of the day, and Kelly is certain that when she smiles, rubs his neck or pats his face she is fully aware of what she is doing.
"She'll like pat my face, which she used to do all the time. She takes my ring off and starts playing with it. She'll put it on her finger."
Kelly said his wife is ready for the next step - rehabilitation.
A spokesman for Giffords said the family is looking at rehabilitation hospitals in New York; Chicago; the Washington, D.C. area; and Houston.
"These are among the best rehabilitation facilities for these types of traumatic brain injuries," said C.J. Karamargin.
Giffords does not know, said Kelly, that six people were killed during her attempted assassination, including her friend and staffer Gabe Zimmerman.
"I've told her where she is and she certainly recognizes she's had a serious injury. There is always the chance she might remember what happened, but she hasn't been told it happened," Kelly said. He said her neurosurgeon says she probably does not remember.
Kelly said the decision to continue or not continue in Congress will be made by Giffords, just as his decision about the space shuttle flight will be his.
"Just like I don't have a choice whether - when - she returns to Congress, she doesn't have a choice in this, either," he said about his shuttle decision.
The day after the shooting, he said, "I called my boss and said we've got to come up with a plan here because I don't know if I'm going to be able to do this."
It would be tough to give up, he said, for personal reasons and for "mission success and safety."
"I know it better than anybody else," Kelly said. "That's why the best scenario is, I go back to work."
Kelly lauded the support he gets in Tucson, singling out the doctors and surgeons, the police keeping guard and the memorials that have spontaneously popped up.
He visited the one in front of University Medical Center and brought a teddy bear back to the room.
Asked what anyone could do to help, he suggested they, too, listen to Gabby's voice: "She has always been about public service and volunteering," he said.
"I think what she would want, if people want to help, is to go out in their community and do something important."
Contact reporter Tom Beal at email@example.com or 573-4158.