Letter from Fidel to His Compatriots
Yesterday, October 20, at the end of my speech during the ceremony in Santa Clara, I suffered an accidental fall. Certain press agencies and other media sources have circulated different versions of the cause of that accident. As the person directly involved, I can explain to you precisely the cause of what happened.
I had finished my speech to the art instruction graduates at around 10:00 p.m. Several comrades from the Party and the government came up on stage to greet us. Among them was Elián [Gonzalez], as it is the case at certain events. We were there for a few minutes and then came down the same small wooden staircase that we used to go up on stage, moving quickly across the granite-colored walkway heading for the same seat they had assigned me before my turn to speak had come up. I was walking across the walkway and, at the same time, occasionally waving to the enthusiastic instructors and to the more than 25,000 residents of Villa Clara province invited to the event.
When I reached the concrete area, some 15 or 20 meters from the first row of seats, I didn’t notice that there was a relatively high step down between the walkway and the crowd. I missed the step with my left foot. Momentum and the law of gravity—discovered a long time ago by Newton—meant that the misstep I had taken threw me forward onto the pavement in a fraction of a second. By pure instinct, my arms went out in front of me to cushion the blow; otherwise, my face and head would have hit the ground.
No one is to blame for what happened. It was totally my responsibility. It would seem that the emotion of that day so full of creativity and symbolism explains my carelessness.
What occurred in the minutes after the fall is widely known. The greatest pain I felt at that instant was the thought of the suffering caused to the group of young graduates and the Villa Clara residents who had been invited to such a beautiful and emotional function.
I could hardly move. After many obstacles, and in the midst of all the consternation, I was put in the back seat of the car in which I had been traveling and not in the jeep I had asked for. Not a single one appeared. We went to a house that had been assigned me for an initial examination of the damage caused by the fall. In the end, there was little that could be done there.
An ambulance showed up and we decided to use it to take me to the capital. Evidently, the pain and other symptoms indicated the need for a full analyses and possible surgery right away. As I lay on a stretcher, they took me by ambulance to the capital.
Several very competent doctors and other comrades, like Carlitos, all cramped together in the ambulance to accompany through the journey that despite a few pot holes, was comfortable and agreeable. Some analgesic were applied which diminished the acute pain.
We set to work along the way. We called our office and various comrades so that they could supply information on international reactions and accurately communicate what had occurred. They were given instructions while medical personnel were mobilized to prepare for various treatment options considered probable.
Even President Hugo Chávez called shortly after receiving the news. He spoke to Felipe and asked to speak to me, which was possible thanks to wireless communication and despite the difficulties of that type of communication, frequently interrupted for technical reasons.
Likewise, I was able to talk to the art instructors gathered in Santa Clara. I insistently urged them not to call off the party organized for after the ceremony. By someone putting a cell phone up to a microphone, I spoke to the graduates directly and relayed the message.
We left Santa Clara at around 11:00 p.m. and went to the Palace of the Revolution [in Havana]. Carried on a stretcher and on the shoulders of various comrades, I was taken immediately to a hospital supplied with the minimum equipment necessary to attend to emergency cases. Promptly, clinical examinations, X-rays, blood tests and other examinations were conducted. It was determined that the most significant complications were those to my left knee and the upper-right arm, where the humerus showed a hairline fracture. The kneecap was broken into eight pieces. I was able to observe all the X-rays and examinations. By mutual agreement between the specialists and the patient, we decided to proceed with an immediate surgery on the knee and to immobilize the right arm with a simple sling.
The surgery lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes. The orthopedics applied themselves to rejoining and placing every fragment of the kneecap in their right locations and, like weavers, proceeded to reunite them solidly, sewing them together with a fine thread of stainless steel. It was a work of high craftsmanship.
The patient asked the doctors not to use any sedatives therefore they applied an epidural anesthetic. This anesthetic technique totally numbs the lower body while leaving the rest of the body unaffected. I explained to them that, given the current circumstances, a general anesthetic had to be avoided so that I was in a condition to attend to many important matters. For that reason, all through the hours of the operation, the patient was in contact with his chief of staff, who remained just outside the operating room wearing a surgeon’s gown. Consequently, over the duration of the operation, the patient was constantly receiving information and giving instructions on how to handle the situation created by the accident.
When the surgery was completed, my left leg was put in a cast while the specialists proceeded simultaneously to immobilize my right arm.
Really, compatriots, this has been an unforgettable experience. The specialists and the patient discussed and perfectly coordinated what had to be done in the concrete circumstances of the country without losing a single minute.
From the very moment of the fall, I have continued seeing to the most important tasks for which I am responsible, in coordination with other comrades.
I wanted to give this news to you tonight. I am progressing well and will continue communicating with you. I would like to express my most profound appreciation for the demonstrations of affection and solidarity that I have received from you during this time.
Every Cuban revolutionary knows what he or she must do at any given point. Let us do that!
Please, accept my apologies for such a long message.
October 21, 2004