In the wake of the Afghan Taliban’s return to power, human rights activist and the youngest ever Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai has recounted in detail the horrifying incident in which she was shot by the Pakistani Taliban in October 2012.
« Nine years after being shot, I am still recovering from just one Taliban bullet, » Malala said in a tweet, and also shared details about the incident, as well as her struggle with recovery.
« Two weeks ago, while U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban gained control, I lay in a hospital bed in Boston, undergoing my sixth surgery, as doctors continued to repair the Taliban’s damage to my body, » Malala wrote.
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She began with the incident and shared, « In October 2012, a member of the Pakistani Taliban boarded my school bus and shot one bullet into my left temple. The bullet grazed my left eye, skull and brain — lacerating my facial nerve, shattering my eardrum and breaking my jaw joints. »
Malala added that the emergency surgeons in Peshawar removed her left temporal skull bone to create space for her brain to swell in response to the injury. « Their quick action saved my life, » she explained. However, she needed intense care and was moved out of the country.
« During this time, I was in an induced coma. I don’t remember anything from the day of the shooting until the moment I woke up at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, U.K., » Malala wrote.
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As she was unable to speak, Malala shared that she wrote questions in her notebook asking what happened to her and where her father was.
« I wrote “mirror” and showed it to the nurses. I wanted to see myself. I recognised only half of my face. The other half was unfamiliar — black eye, sprinkles of gun powder, no smile, no frown, no movement at all. Half of my hair had been shaved off, » Malala continued.
« I tried to stay calm. I told myself, ‘When they discharge me, I will find a job, earn some money, buy a phone, call my family and work until I pay all the bills I owe to the hospital,' » she wrote. She shared that she believed in her strength and thought she would get out of the hospital and « run like a wolf, fly like an eagle » — but soon realised she couldn’t move most of her body.
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Malala also revealed that the Pakistani surgeons who removed part of her skull bone placed it in her stomach, where it would be safe until it could be put back in its place one day. « But the U.K. doctors eventually decided to fit a titanium plate where my skull bone had been, » she added. « They took the piece of my skull out of my stomach. Today it sits on my bookshelf. »
She also admitted to struggling during her recovery from facial paralysis. « I avoided staring in the mirror or watching myself on video, » she recounted. She had two extensive surgeries, in 2018 and 2019, which restored movement in her face.
For her third surgery in Boston, she heard the news of Taliban taking over Kunduz, the first major city to fall in Afghanistan. « Over the next few days, with ice packs and a bandage wrapped around my head, I watched as province after province fell to men with guns, loaded with bullets like the one that shot me, » Malala stated.
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« As soon as I could sit up again, I was making phone calls, writing letters to heads of state around the world and speaking with women’s rights activists still in Afghanistan, » she said. « In the last two weeks, we’ve been able to help several of them and their families get to a safe place. But I know we can’t save everyone. »
She recalled that when she was shot in 2012, many people and journalists already knew her name because of her years of writing and protests against the extremist ban on girls’ education. But it could have been different, Malala wrote, if people had not known her.
« Nine years later, I am still recovering from just one bullet. The people of Afghanistan have taken millions of bullets over the last four decades, » Malala added. « My heart breaks for those whose names we will forget or never even know, whose cries for help will go unanswered. »
In the end, she conceded that the scars and trauma are still fresh. « My body has scars from one bullet and many surgeries, but I have no memory of that day. Nine years later, my best friend still has nightmares, » she concluded.
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