At recent meetings of my stroke wives club -- an exclusive group you don't want to join, made up of women whose husbands have suffered left-brain strokes -- we've been shaking our heads ruefully at the relentlessly upbeat reports of Gabrielle Giffords' recovery.
The Arizona congresswoman was shown most recently smiling lopsidedly while hanging onto an aide's arm, having briefly returned to Congress for the budget vote.
She's being called "heroic" and "miraculous," and certainly that's true, although no more true than it is of the thousands of others, such as our spouses, who struggle daily to recover from brain injury -- and with a lot less help, money and media applause than Giffords has enjoyed.
Of course, after severe brain injury, any progress is good progress, and it's heartening to read that Giffords is saying a few words and starting to walk. But that doesn't mean she'll return to Congress. In all likelihood, the damage to her brain is just too great.
Left-hemisphere brain damage causes difficulty speaking and understanding speech; difficulty reading; decreased problem-solving ability, and diminished long-term planning. That kind of defines a congressperson's job, doesn't it?
If you read closely, of course, you'll find hints that her doctors are not uniformly optimistic about Giffords resuming political life. In April, her rehab doctor told the Houston Chronicle, "Our goal is to try to bring the person back to where she was. Sometimes we're successful, many times we're not."
Nevertheless, the majority of media reports are full of Pollyanna platitudes from physicians who have never ever seen Giffords.
Take this remark made to FoxNews.com by Dr. Raj Narayan, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.: "Without examining her it is difficult to tell, but I would think that she would be able to return."
I wish at least one doctor would have the courage to tell the media -- and Giffords' family -- what a rehab doctor told me two weeks after my husband's stroke: Professional people who suffer massive left-hemisphere brain damage almost never return to work.
I'm very grateful to have received this information, though at first it was damn hard to hear. It allowed me to help my husband with his recovery without holding out the vain hope that he would one day return to practicing architecture.
It allowed me to close his business within six months instead of leaving his clients hanging. It allowed me to -- ad nauseam -- tell his friends, family members and would-be clients that, no, this talented architect, though only 45 years old, would never design their dream house or their new kitchen. So please stop asking.
In the five years since my husband's stroke, he has relearned to talk (haltingly), walk (with a brace), read (slowly), write (with his left hand) and drive (better than me).
He is living his life, traveling, riding a bike, taking photos, attending church, being a husband, raising his kids. He's an important part of our family and a stalwart friend to his stroke buddies and those intimates and colleagues brave enough to keep in touch.
I'm sure Gabrielle Giffords' family and closest friends would be thrilled if she ended up doing as well as my husband. But he's no longer a working professional, and chances are Giffords won't be, either.
Is that really the only important question to ask about her? Is it the only meaningful gauge of her recovery? Is it, truly, the only measure of success?
Lynette Lamb, a Minneapolis writer, works as an editor at Macalester College. Her husband, Robert Gerloff, recently celebrated his 50th birthday.