Letter from Fidel to his compatriots
‘My profound appreciation of the demonstrations of affection and solidarity I have received’
Yesterday, October 20, at the end of my speech during the event in Santa Clara, I suffered an accidental fall. Certain cable agencies and other media channels have circulated various versions of the cause of the accident. As the protagonist and witness affected, I can explain to you precisely the cause of what took place.
I had concluded my speech to the art instructor 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, as is the case at certain events. We were there for a few minutes and then immediately came down the same small wooden staircase that we used to reach the stage, moving quickly across the granite-colored paving and heading for the same seat they had assigned to me before my turn in the tribunal arrived. I was walking across the granite paving and at the same time, occasionally waving at the enthusiastic instructors and 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 sidewalk between the paving and the crowd. I took a step with my left foot into the space created by the difference in height between the area where the participants were located in their respective seats. Impulse and the law of gravity, discovered a long time ago by Newton, meant that the false step I had taken precipitated me forwards, in a fraction of a second, onto the paving. 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 creation 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 notion of the suffering of that mass of young graduates and residents of Villa Clara who had been invited to such a beautiful and emotional event.
I could hardly move. And after many obstacles, in the midst of all the consternation, I was put into the back seat of the car in which I had been traveling and not the jeep I had asked for. Not a single one appeared. We headed to the house that had been assigned to me for an initial investigation into the damage caused by the fall; at the end of the day, there was little that could be done there.
An ambulance appeared and we decided to use it to transfer me to the capital. Evidently, the pain and symptoms indicated the need for comprehensive analyses and possible surgery straight away. Lying on a stretcher they took me by ambulance to the capital.
I have to say that, together with several very competent doctors and other comrades, such as Carlitos, cramped together in that ambulance, and despite a few potholes, the journey was comfortable and agreeable. Some analgesics had been applied and in a way, they alleviated the patient from acute pain.
We set to work along the way. We called our office and various comrades so that they could supply information on the international reactions, and accurately communicate what had occurred. They were given instructions, technical resources, while medical personnel were mobilized in order to prepare the required conditions for the various treatment options considered possible.
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 cellular communication, and despite the difficulties in this type of communication: they are difficult and are frequently interrupted for technical reasons.
By the same means, I was able to talk to the comrade art instructors gathered in Santa Clara. I insistently urged them not to suspend the party organized for after the ceremony. By utilizing a cell phone placed in front of a microphone where they were assembled, I talked to them directly and transmitted the message.
We left Santa Clara at around 11:00 p.m. and reached the Palace of the Revolution (in Havana). Carried on a stretcher and on the shoulders of various comrades, I was immediately taken to the same hospital installation, fitted with the minimum equipment necessary to attend to emergency cases. Immediately: clinical examinations, X-rays, blood tests and other investigations. It could be ascertained that the most important complications were in my left knee and the upper part of my right arm, where the humerus presented a hairline fracture. The kneecap was broken into eight pieces. I was able to observe all the X-rays and examinations. By common accord between the specialists and the patient, we decided to proceed to an immediate operation on the knee and immobilize the right arm with a simple sling.
The operation process lasted three hours and 154 minutes. The orthopedics devoted themselves to rejoining and placing every fragment of the kneecap in its right location and, like weavers, proceeded to solidly reunite them, sewing them together with a fine thread of rustproof steel. A labor of craftsmanship.
The patient asked the doctors not to use any sedatives and they utilized an epidural anesthetic. This anesthetic technique totally numbs the lower part of the body, while maintaining the rest of the organism intact. 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, during the hours of the operation, the patient was in contact with his chief office aide, who was also in the vicinity of the operating room and wearing a sterile surgeon’s gown. Thus, for the duration, he was constantly receiving information and giving instructions on handling the situation created by the unforeseen accident.
When the surgical part was completed, my left leg was put in plaster while they simultaneously proceeded to immobilize my right arm.
Really, compatriots, this has been an unforgettable experience. The specialists and the patient discussed and coordinated perfectly well what had to be done in the concrete circumstances the country is experiencing without losing a single minute.
From the very moment of the fall, I have continued to attend to the most important tasks that fall to me, in coordination with all the other comrades.
I wanted to transmit this news to you tonight. I am progressing well and will continue to communicate with you. I would like to express my most profound appreciation of the demonstrations of affection and solidarity that I have received from you at this time.
Every Cuban revolutionary knows what he or she must do at any given point. Let’s do it!
Please accept my apologies for such a long message.
October 21, 2004