Ron Barber

Ron Barber returns to work today at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' office, almost six months after he was shot during the attempted assassination on Jan. 8.

For Barber, it is a tentative return. His doctor has set the terms of his work schedule - no more than four hours a day, starting at 9 a.m. He also calls it a "trial."

The fear, Barber said, is that he'll return to his old workaholic ways and have a setback in his recovery from a gunshot wound he received when Jared Loughner opened fire that day, killing six people and wounding 13.

"He knows me," Barber said of his doctor. "If he says 'half-time,' he knows I might push the envelope."

Barber, who headed Giffords' Arizona offices as district director, was shot in the cheek and the left groin area. The cheek wound healed quickly, but Barber's lower left leg remains largely numb, meaning he must walk with a cane and can drive only short distances.

"I've been trying to get back for weeks and months, actually," Barber said. "I had this notion that after about a month I'd get back in. I had no idea it would take me six months."

In his absence, Rodd McLeod has assumed many of Barber's duties. He'll continue on as Barber eases back into the flow.

Another staffer, Gabe Zimmerman, was shot to death that day.

"My first job will be to meet with every one of the staff," Barber said. "I'm concerned about the workload they've been under."

Barber also hopes to resume his liaison work with the U.S. Border Patrol and ranchers in the border area, as well as re-establishing his contacts with the military installations in Southern Arizona.

Giffords' staff member Pam Simon plans to help Barber with his transition. She went through a similar process at the end of February, when she returned after being shot in the wrist and the chest.

Simon said the biggest issue was exhaustion.

"They gave me a clearance to go back, pending the need for psychological and physical rest," she said.

Simon said the trauma and the surgeries robbed her of her energy. That was the biggest obstacle.

"I'll be watching Ron closely," she said.

Barber, his wife and his doctor all are concerned about Barber's energy, too. That's why they've set his schedule for a period of the day when he tends to have the most oomph.

"My stamina is so bad that I can't get going in the (early) morning," he said.

Barber is reporting to a different office from the one where he worked before. In May, Giffords' staff moved from the longtime office at East Pima Street and North Swan Road to one at North Alvernon Way and East Fort Lowell Road.

That's not the only difference, Barber said.

"It won't be like it was before. We've lost Gabe. Pam is wounded. Pam and I and the staff are emotionally wounded."

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or