By Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.)
As a member of the Illinois Congressional delegation, I have been besieged by questions on the status of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). These well-intended queries come from colleagues from around the country, Congressional staffers, the professional employees of the government, local Republican leaders and the general public.
When I went to visit Sen. Kirk on Sunday night, he was clearly very happy to see me. Family and close friends have pitched in to support him, and he was surrounded by "get well" notes from Illinois and around the world. I added to the collection with a card recently signed at the Clark County Republican Lincoln Day dinner and another from wounded warriors, organized by Bert Caswell, who is a red-coat tour guide at the United States Capitol.
Mark was sitting up with a smile on his face. His short hair reminded me of Sgt. Carter from the TV show Gomer Pyle, USMC.
We first spoke about the devastating tornado in the Harrisburg area and our extreme disappointment in FEMA's rejection of Illinois' request for disaster assistance, which we intend to fight along with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Ill.) and our Illinois colleagues. He thanked me for my prompt visit and for having a member of his staff tour with me. I told him that many Southern Illinoisans appreciated the visit he made downstate prior to his stroke.
That turned the conversation to his January trip to Poland with Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.). Mark has always been devoted to national security in and out of uniform.
I mentioned the highway bill and how it looked like the Senate version of $109 million for two years would be the base. He was proud of the bi-partisan work of Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Rep. Quigley on the commuter rail portion. He is also enthusiastic about his work with Mayor Emanuel on a public-private aspect to infrastructure.
I then moved to the primary season in Illinois, and we discussed several upcoming Republican Congressional primaries.
I told him I was reading the book “Lone Survivor.” As a graduate of the Army's Ranger school, I could not believe what the Navy Seal school put these students through. I reflected on my 52 day experience. Surely it was not that bad. Mark talked about a weapons qualification test he took led by a Navy Seal. He griped about the ungodly amount of rounds he had to send downrange over a two day period.
But he said that nothing he has done has been as difficult as this road to recovery. Every day, Mark pushes himself through tough physical therapy sessions, on a treadmill and walking the hallways. Some days are better than others but his progress is consistent, and he knows we are cheering him on.
Mentally he is sharp. I believe he could cast knowledgeable votes today. But he is in a critical time to continue to focus on improvement and strengthening his body and soul for the important work he looks forward to resuming.
We did talk about faith and he pointed again to the window ledge where his Bible sits. He mentioned the daily visit of the rehab center chaplain and time spent in prayer. How quickly I and many others have dropped Mark off our prayer lists. I would ask that we all continue to pray for his speedy recovery.
I felt I was overstaying my time, so I started making comments that I should leave and let him get some rest and that it was sure great seeing him. As I was leaving, Mark reached over to give me a strong handshake.
As I walked out of his room, I overheard him ask his staffer what time the movie was on. That is when I knew he was about to stay up to watch “Game Change.”
Sen. Mark Kirk is coming back.
Rep. Shimkus (R-Ill.) represents the 19th Congressional District of Illinois.