Imran Khan, the former Pakistan cricket captain and a leading candidate in the country's general election, was rushed to hospital with a skull fracture and injured back on Tuesday after falling off a hydraulic lift at one of the final rallies of his campaign.
Television pictures showed Khan, 60, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI), who was campaigning in Lahore ahead of Saturday's election, being pulled off an overcrowded platform and falling around four metres to the ground after one of his guards lost balance and toppled over the side.
Khan had squeezed on to the small lift carrying him and five other members of his staff up to a stage, when another man tried to clamber aboard.
Although Khan, who has only won one seat in past elections, is not expected to win, he has been gaining momentum in recent days.
A frantic schedule of back-to-back campaign events has helped to galvanise a young, middle-class fan base with huge numbers of supporters flocking to his events.
The PTI reassured supporters that Khan had not suffered serious injuries. "Imran Khan is up, he is talking to people around him, and he recognised everyone," a statement said. "However, he is still undergoing tests so please pray for him."
The incident, footage of which was looped continuously by television channels, came at the end of another bloody day in Pakistan's election which saw 17 people killed by bomb attacks in the north-west. Twelve people were killed and more than 40 injured by a suicide bomb attack on a Pakistan People's party (PPP) candidate in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Later a roadside bomb killed another five people, including the brother of a PPP candidate standing for the provincial assembly.
More than 100 people have been killed by the Taliban's campaign of violence, largely directed against candidates standing for secular parties that back army operations against the militants.
Khan's events have been energetic but chaotic at times with security guards powerless to prevent him throwing himself into heaving crowds despite the terrorist attacks that have cast a shadow over the election.
In 2007 the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed after she was attacked by militants. The incident helped her party, the PPP, ride to power on a wave of sympathy.
Nawaz Sharif, the leader of his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League and favourite to win the most seats on Saturday, reacted to Khan's injury by cancelling his campaign events on Tuesday night and Wednesday .
Khan was taken away by ambulance and later moved to the Shaukat Khanum hospital, a private cancer hospital he set up in honour of his mother.
Supporters outside the building cheered and waved cricket bats – the official symbol used to identify the party on ballot papers – when news spread that a CT scan had shown Khan had no internal bleeding in the head. Khan has a huge following on social media websites and concerned supporters flocked to Twitter and Facebook to express their concern.
Others took the accident as a good sign, citing the example of the 1992 cricket World Cup which Khan led to victory despite suffering acute pain in his shoulder.
"Imran Khan won 92 World Cup with a shoulder injury, this time he'll win Elections2013 with a head injury," said one Facebook commenter.
“The whole thing got unstable with all these people, I thought I was going to catch the railing. Then the last thing I remember was there was no railing. And I could see me heading down and I don’t remember anything else.” Well-meaning supporters dragged Khan towards an ambulance with little thought for supporting his spine. If the damage had been any lower in his back, he might have suffered irreparable damage. Doctors found he had crushed one vertebra and fractured several others, his spinal cord was undamaged.
On the advice of security services he had taken to wearing body armour, a bullet-proof vest which he credits with protecting him from far worse injuries.
“From that height, falling on my back, it could have broken my spine ... that bullet-proof jacket I had just started wearing three days before,” he said.
Imran Khan talks about recovering from the injuries he suffered after falling off of a lift during a campaign rally in May of this year from his home in the Bani Gala neighborhood of Islamabad Photo: POLARIS
The accident meant he was absent from the last days of the election - only able to address his supporters from his hospital bed.
But results propelled Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) – Movement for Justice – from the political wilderness into the mainstream. He picked up almost 8m votes — second only to the winner Nawaz Sharif — and took control of a province for the first time, despite what he claims was widespread rigging.
Even as he continues his recovery, he still faces a huge political test, converting his brand of fiery rhetoric into meaningful opposition as well as taking charge of Khyber Pakhtunkwa — a province riddled with insecurity, corruption and scene of frequent terrorist attacks.
On Saturday he travelled to the province for a security briefing and to set about his controversial policy of trying to talk to the extremists. He said he was shocked to discover that the police had no input from intelligence agencies and did not even have the technology to trace telephone calls.
One of his first priorities, he said, would be to make sure there was proper sharing of intelligence, perhaps even copying the way the US followed 9/11 by setting up a Department of Homeland Security.
“All the agencies came together,” he said. “This is what needs to be happening in Pakistan.”
Even with help, he said he struggled to work a full day. Meetings are held at the house to avoid travelling.
“Sitting in a car is the worst thing for me,” he added. “I stay here and see my own party people.” This week he will visit a specialist in the UK for scans to ensure that his spine is healing properly.
“You can tell by the pain easing, you can tell it’s healing. But I want a specialist to tell me if there’s a rehabilitation process, which is very important, because this is the sort of injury where you can actually have pain throughout your life,” he said.
What he is most looking forward to, however, is the chance to set aside the maelstrom of Pakistani politics for a chance to spend some time with his sons. Security problems and the demands of the campaign mean he has not seen them for five months.
“To sit with my boys there to watch cricket — they love cricket — that’s the ideal day, a day at Lords.”