RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:
A little more than a year ago, ABC News' Bob Woodruff had reached the pinnacle of his career. He was one of two people chosen to succeed Peter Jennings in the "World News Tonight" anchor chair. Bob Woodruff had less than a month in that coveted job before he and his cameraman were gravely wounded in a roadside bombing attack while reporting in Iraq.
Thirteen months after that attack, he and his wife Lee have written about his injuries and his healing in a memoir called "In an Instant." The Woodruffs came to our New York studio to talk about it, and I asked Bob Woodruff what he remembers about the attack.
Mr. BOB WOODRUFF (Former Anchor, ABC News): I remember now some of the moments before we got hit by this IED. That we were driving down a street, and right before the explosion went off we were told by one of the Iraqi drivers that this looked like an area that was a little bit more dangerous for IED, for bombs. And we were just about ready to get down back inside the tank when this thing blew up.
MONTAGNE: And the thing was a huge bomb filled with rocks.
Mr. WOODRUFF: And those rocks flew into the side of my neck, side of my head, and crushed the back of my shoulder. And then that's when I went out. I passed out for about a minute, and during that minute one of the things that I do remember was seeing my body just floating below me in whiteness. After that I woke up and then Vinnie Malhotra, who is my producer was then - helped saving my life by holding onto my neck where there was blood coming out of my neck. And he's blocking it off with his finger. Where the helmet was, there was blood coming out of that area as well.
INSKEEP: I'm going to turn to you now, Lee, because you flew in to Germany where, Bob Woodruff, you'd been transported to a military hospital there. And you describe your husband Bob's injuries in terms that are, actually, makes you feel almost physical pain to read.
Ms. LEE WOODRUFF (Wife of Bob Woodruff): Well, we knew that Bob had a - I guess we knew the term traumatic brain injury that point in time. It was a term I had never heard before all of this. And we were brought into the room - myself and Bob's brother, David. And the nurse took us around to Bob's, quote, unquote, "good side." Because he'd been sitting on the left side of the tank, most of his injuries were on the left side of his body.
So I remember looking at his body sort of starting with the feet and working my way up to what I knew was going to be a horror show at the top of his head. And I got up to his good side and it looked like him with some cuts. And then I walked around on the other side of him and it was like being on the other side of the moon.
The most horrifying thing to see was the giant 14-centimeter hole that had been cut out of the top of his skull to allow his brain to swell out of it. And the top of his head looked like a rugby ball. And of course there were tubes coming out of everywhere. I had to suck in my breath. But at the same time I felt this sort of steely calm seep in me. And I knew my husband and he's a fighter. He is so driven. I knew that that had to count for something.
MONTAGNE: How long were you in a coma?
Mr. WOODRUFF: This IED exploded on January 29th of 2006, and then I was asleep in the bed in a coma about 36, 35 days.
MONTAGNE: Do you remember waking up?
Mr. WOODRUFF: To this day, one of the few memories that I have about that time in the beginning when I was in rehabilitation was when I woke up and I just thought, it was about four o'clock in the morning. And I woke up and looked around, I saw the room. Three hours later, my wife, Lee, walked into the place and she saw me now standing up and I said to her, I said sweetie, where have you been?
Ms. WOODRUFF: He was sitting up in bed, the corpsmen - and there were these wonderful group of young Marines who sit by the bed - the corpsman said to me, oh my gosh, he's been up since four o'clock and he's been asking for you and he's been speaking Chinese, and I think French, and I think he's been doing a couple of broadcasts, too.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WOODRUFF: And I looked at him and my - I think my jaw dropped and I thought two things. I thought where have I been? I'm going to strangle you. Where do think I've for the last five weeks? I've been living here in Bethesda Naval Hospital. And the other part of me was just overwhelmed.
MONTAGNE: This book is as much about your love affair and your marriage. And part of that is the life of a foreign correspondent, which is to say you're a apart a lot.
Ms. WOODRUFF: Yes. It's sort of a miracle, really, when you think about it. That a woman who was dragged around the country, never saw her husband and then he gets his head blown off is still with this man when you think about it.
Mr. WOODRUFF: Dragged around the country?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. WOODRUFF: We worked in a few local markets as I recall.
Mr. WOODRUFF: Yeah, by the time our first child, Mack, who's now 15, but by the time he reached 11 years old, he was in his eighth city.
MONTAGNE: Bob, you write in this book that you sense that a lot of people have wanted to ask you what it feels like to reach the top of your profession and then have it slip from your grasp so quickly.
Mr. WOODRUFF: Well, yes, that's true. I only got 27 days in this job as anchor of "World News Tonight" at ABC. But, you know, you just keep all of the things in your life protected that you really care about most. Which is not usually the exact job that you've got. But you look at your wife or your husband, your parents, your kids, and to see what you're doing for them everyday. And as long as you can keep that, it's not really going to matter that much what you're doing in the job from day to day.
MONTAGNE: But you do know the exact number of days that you were in that anchor seat.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. WOODRUFF: Yeah, I - you know, did I count that? Yes, I guess I did. It felt pretty tough to lose it. There's no question about that.
Ms. WOODRUFF: You know, Renée, I think that there's a priority shuffling that many people who cheat death probably feel. And when Bob first woke up, certainly that first week afterwards, he doesn't remember a lot of that. He was kind of in this bizarre fugue state of giddiness. Part of what was the brain injury, kind of a silliness. But also just a relief that he was alive.
MONTAGNE: What is your day-to-day life like now?
Mr. WOODRUFF: I spend a lot of time right now trying to go visit some of the other soldiers and Marines who have been injured in this war. And the families especially to try to get a good sense from them exactly what's happening. And some that I've met in the hospitals, I think they're happy to see me because there's the possibility maybe there's some kind of recovery for them. So I'm trying to spend a lot of time doing that.
Ms. WOODRUFF: You know, traumatic brain injury is the signature wound of this war, and it's unfortunate or fortunate that it had to be Bob Woodruff's injury that put this on the map for all the other people who have suffered. We were lucky. We're a really lucky family. Bob's recovery is miraculous and there's a reason he survived.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Ms. WOODRUFF: Thanks for having us here.
Mr. WOODRUFF: Thanks, Renée.
MONTAGNE: Lee Woodruff was awoken by a phone call telling her that her husband, Bob, had been hurt badly in Iraq. You can read about that moment in an excerpt from their memoir, "In an Instant," at npr.org.
Ninety-three journalists have been killed in Iraq, and many of them Iraqi, since the war began in 2003.
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