Pakistan's Khan is down, but not out
One small misstep is all it takes to send millions of Pakistani hearts leaping into mouths. At least, that is, when the step in question sends one tumbling head-first 14 feet to the ground below, and the man taking that step is Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and a man who has captured the political imagination of much of the country.
On Tuesday, Khan was due to address a rally of thousands – just as he has been doing, day in and day out, for weeks - gathered in Lahore's Gulberg area. His tumble, and the resulting head injury, occurred as he was stepping onto a makeshift stage from a forklift, which was being used to raise him to its level.
The resulting fall sent the assembled crowd into a panic. Khan himself was rushed to hospital – first to Lahore's government-run Jinnah Hospital for an initial assessment, and then to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, a facility Khan had himself established in his mother's name, using public donations to administer top-level care, free-of-cost to those in need.
And, as Khan received that care inside, his supporters began to mass outside the hospital’s gates, anxious for any news of their leader's condition. Many carried PTI flags or banners, or wore T-shirts with Khan's face and the word 'Inquilaab' [Revolution] printed on them. Several said they came as soon as they heard the news on television, to show their support. Some were from the adjoining neighbourhoods, and others had come from as far away as across the city.
Others had come from further still.
"I've come to Pakistan especially from Dubai, where I live, to take part in this election campaign," said Ali Nasir, 26, a PTI worker for the last seven years. He introduced us to his friends – one had flown back from Canada to volunteer with the campaign, while the other had flown in from the United States.
One visibly moved young man said that if Khan passed away, he, too, would prefer to die.
Inside, doctors carried out tests to determine the extent of Khan's injuries, and quickly concluded that while they were not minor, they were also not life-threatening.
Addressing the media, Dr. Faisal Sultan, the CEO of the facility, said that Khan had suffered fractures to the C7 and T7 portions of his spinal column, but that his spinal cord was entirely intact, and he was freely able to move all of his limbs.
Khan was conscious, stable and speaking with those gathered around him, he said. The PTI leader, Dr Sultan said, was "not just in good spirits. He is in high spirits."
Aleema Khan, Imran's sister, told media that the first words out of her brother's mouth once admitted to the hospital were: "Let Allah protect Pakistan."
The next words?
"How soon can you get me back on my feet?", according to Aleema.
And Khan has been on his feet for weeks now. Carrying out 78 political rallies, most to crowds numbering in the thousands, since April 21, he has been frenetic in his crisscrossing of the country to deliver his party’s message of bringing "change" to Pakistan. His tireless campaigning in the last two weeks has kicked what has otherwise been a relatively lacklustre election campaign season into overdrive.
Tuesday's event in Lahore's Gulberg was the first of eight rallies he was due to address that day, PTI officials told Al Jazeera. On Monday, he had carried out a similar number of meetings, with rallies in the cities of Sialkot, Gujranwala, Kasur, Multan and elsewhere.
His next stop on Tuesday was due to be Krishan Nagar, also in Lahore, where Nasir, the PTI worker, was due to host him.
"We were ecstatic when we heard the news that he is not in danger," said Nasir. "Hopefully now he will be able to complete his work."
Doctors say Khan will need at least two or three weeks to recover from his injuries, but PTI staff insist that their "captain", as they refer to him, won’t let himself stay down for that long.
"He’s crazy," one party worker told Al Jazeera. "You watch – he’ll be back up in no time."
Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim