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Malala Yousafzai: ‘The Day I Woke Up in the Hospital’

8 minute read
Malala Yousafzai is an education activist from Pakistan.

I woke up on Oct. 16, a week after the shooting. I had been flown from Pakistan to the U.K. while unconscious and without my parents. I was thousands of miles away from home with a tube in my neck to help me breathe and unable to speak.

The first thing I thought when I came around was, ‘Thank God I’m not dead.’ But I had no idea where I was. I knew I was not in my homeland. The nurses and doctors were speaking English, though they all seemed to be from different countries. I was speaking to them, but no one could hear me because of the tube in my neck. To start with, my left eye was very blurry and everyone had two noses and four eyes. All sorts of questions flew through my waking brain: Where was I? Who had brought me there? Where were my parents? Was my father alive? I was terrified. Dr. Javid Kayani, deputy medical director of University Hospitals Birmingham who had been in Islamabad when I was shot and was the reason I was now in Birmingham, was there when I was brought around and says he will never forget the look of fear and bewilderment on my face.

He spoke to me in Urdu. The only thing I knew was that Allah had blessed me with a new life. A nice lady in a headscarf held my hand and said, “Asalaamu alaikum,” which is our traditional Muslim greeting. Then she started saying prayers in Urdu and reciting verses of the Quran. She told me her name was Rehanna and she was the Muslim chaplain. Her voice was soft and her words were soothing, and I drifted back to sleep.

See Malala's Life In Photos

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai raises her hands with some of the escaped kidnapped school girls of government secondary school Chibok during a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria on July 14, 2014. Olamikan Gbemiga—AP
Malala Yousafzai walks alongside Syrian refugee Mazoon Rakan after attending a press conference at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian border with Syria on Feb. 18, 2014. AFP/Getty Images
Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban for campaigning for girls' education, attends an award ceremony to receive her 2013 Sakharov Prize in Strasbourg
Malala Yousafzai attends an award ceremony to receive her 2013 Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Nov. 20, 2013.Vincent Kessler—Reuters
Pakistani teenage activist Yousafzai poses for pictures before an event launching her memoir "I Am Malala" in London
Malala Yousafzai poses for pictures before an event launching her memoir "I Am Malala" at the Southbank Centre in London on Oct. 20, 2013. Olivia Harris—Reuters/Corbis
Queen Elizabeth II Receives Malala At Buckingham Palace
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip meet Malala Yousafzai during a Reception for Youth, Education and the Commonwealth at Buckingham Palace in London on Oct. 18, 2013.Yui Mok—Getty Images
In this handout image provided by the White House, the Obama family meets with Malala Yousafzai in the Oval Office on Oct. 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.
The Obama family meets with Malala Yousafzai in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Oct. 11, 2013.The White House/Getty Images
Malala Yousafzai raises a trophy after being honored with the International Children's Peace Prize in the Netherlands, on Sept. 6, 2013. AFP/Getty Images
malala nobel peace prize
Malala Yousafzai was on the cover of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People list in 2013.TIME
Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai speaks before the United Nations Youth Assembly in New york on July 12, 2013.Stan Honda—AFP/Getty Images
Family Of Malala Yousafzai Arrive In UK
Malala Yousafzai sits up in her hospital bed with her father and her two younger brothers, on Oct. 26, 2012, in Birmingham, United Kingdom. The 15 year-old Malala was being treated after she was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan two weeks earlier. Getty Images
Sharia Law in Pakistan's Swat Valley and North-West Frontier Province
Malala Yousafzai lives in the Swat Valley with her family seen here on March 26, 2009 in Peshawar, Pakistan. Veronique de Viguerie—Getty Images

I dreamed I wasn’t really in hospital. When I woke again the next day, I noticed I was in a strange green room with no windows and very bright lights. It was an intensive-care cubicle in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Everything was clean and shiny, not like the hospital in my hometown, Mingora. A nurse gave me a pencil and a pad, but I couldn’t write properly and the words came out wrong. I wanted to write my father’s phone number. I couldn’t space letters. Dr. Javid brought me an alphabet board so I could point to the letters. The first words I spelled out were father andcountry. The nurse told me I was in Birmingham, but I had no idea where that was. Only later did they bring me an atlas so I could see it was in England. I didn’t know what had happened. The nurses weren’t telling me anything. Even my name. Was I still Malala?

My head was aching so much that even the injections they gave me couldn’t stop the pain. My left ear kept bleeding and my left hand felt funny. Nurses and doctors kept coming in and out. Then a kind lady called Dr. Fiona came and gave me a white teddy bear. She said I should call it Junaid and she would explain why later. [Colonel Junaid Kahn was an army surgeon who had performed emergency brain surgery on me in the military hospital in Peshawar, where I was first brought after being shot in the head.] I didn’t know who Junaid was, so I named it Lily. She also brought me a pink exercise book to write in. The first two questions my pen wrote were “Why have I no father?” and “My father has no money. Who will pay for all this?”

“Your father is safe,” she replied. “He is in Pakistan. Don’t worry about payment.” I repeated the questions to anyone who came in. They all said the same. But I was not convinced. I had no idea what had happened to me, and I didn’t trust anyone. If my father was fine, why wasn’t he here? I thought I had been shot but wasn’t sure — were these dreams or memories? It was only later I learned that people were not supposed tell me anything, as the doctors were worried it could traumatize me.

I was also obsessed by money. Whenever I saw the doctors talking to one another I thought they were saying, “Malala doesn’t have any money. Malala can’t pay for her treatment.” One of the doctors was a Polish man who always looked sad. I thought he was the owner of the hospital and was unhappy because I couldn’t pay. So I gestured at a nurse for paper and wrote, “Why are you sad?” He replied, “No, I am not sad.” “Who will pay?” I wrote. “We don’t have any money.” “Don’t worry, your government will pay,” he said. Afterward he always smiled when he saw me.

I was worried my father could be dead. Then Fiona brought in a Pakistani newspaper from the week before which had a photograph of my father talking to General Kayani with a shawled figure sitting at the back next to my brother. I could just see her feet. “That’s my mother!” I wrote. Later that day Dr. Javid came in with his mobile phone. “We’re going to call your parents,” he said. My eyes shone with excitement. “You won’t cry, you won’t weep,” he instructed me. He was gruff but very kind, like he had known me forever. “I will give you the mobile and be strong.” I nodded. He dialed the number, spoke and then gave me the phone.

There was my father’s voice. I couldn’t talk because of the tube in my neck. But I was so happy to hear him. I couldn’t smile because of my face, but it was as if there were a smile inside. “I’ll come soon,” he promised. “Now have a rest and in two days we will be there.” Later he told me that Dr. Javid had also ordered him not to cry, as that would make us all sadder. The doctor wanted us to be strong for each other.

A few days later, I asked for a mirror. “Mirror,” I wrote in the pink diary — I wanted to see my face and hair. The nurses brought me a small white mirror, which I still have. When I saw myself, I was distraught. My long hair, which I used to spend ages styling, had gone, and the left side of my head had none at all. “Now my hair is small,” I wrote in the book. I thought the Taliban had cut it off. In fact the Pakistani doctors had shaved my head with no mercy. My face was distorted like someone had pulled it down on one side, and there was a scar to the side of my left eye.

“Hwo did this to me?” I wrote, my letters still scrambled. “What happened to me?” I also wrote “Stop lights,” as the bright lights were making my head ache.

“Something bad happened to you,” said Dr. Fiona.

“Was I shot? Was my father shot?” I wrote.

She told me that I had been shot on the school bus. She said two of my friends on the bus had also been shot, but I didn’t recognize their names. She explained that the bullet had entered through the side of my left eye where there was a scar, traveled 18 in. down to my left shoulder and stopped there. It could have taken out my eye or gone into my brain. It was a miracle I was alive.

I felt nothing, maybe just a bit satisfied. “So they did it.” My only regret was that I hadn’t had a chance to speak to them before they shot me. Now they’d never hear what I had to say. I didn’t even think a single bad thought about the man who shot me — I had no thoughts of revenge — I just wanted to go back to Swat. I wanted to go home.

Excerpted from the book I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb. Copyright © 2013 by Salarzai Limited. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company; all rights reserved.

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