Friday, October 22, 2004


Fidel Castro: Business as Usual

In public, Fidel Castro, 78, has only had three bad moments. The three were quickly accounted for by himself. The first was a voice failure back in 1960, during a Latin American youth gathering in the Havana stadium. There, his brother Raul continued the speech in his place, explaining he had faringitis. The second was decades after, about a year or so ago, when he fainted after a whole day without sleep and scarcely eating while delivering a speech in an open rally meeting and almost at midday under a scorching sun. Not five minutes had passed when he told the people there that he would be back on TV that evening, and so it was. The fall he had last Wednesday, October 20th, was no different. After speaking at a graduating ceremony of Art Instructors, he went to sit down again to greet people who were in the public. Suddenly, he stumbled on a ledge higher than he expected and fell headlong. He immediately knew he had broken his left knee-bone and injured his right arm. He said so over the microphone to the people still gathered there, assuring them he was in one piece, asking them to go on with the artistic part of the ceremony, and almost without showing the pain he must have been enduring. In his own words contained in a letter read over the news on TV Thursday night and published in Granma on Friday, the President tells how he was first driven to a house to assess the physical damage, given pain-killers and then moved to Havana by ambulance. The trip from Santa Clara to Havana usually takes little less than two hours by car. In the ambulance, the letter with his signature says, the occupants had a work session. They called Havana asking for information on what news agencies were saying about the accident and what would be needed to perform surgery on the patient. One phone call came in while still at the house in Santa Clara from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who spoke with Foreign Relations Minister, Felipe Perez Roque and later, directly with Fidel, to inquire about his health. Once in Havana, he was taken to the Palace of the Revolution where a small medical center for emergencies is located. There they made the usual clinical tests and took X-Rays, after which it was confirmed that the most important complications were the fractured rotula (eight pieces) in the left knee. Doctors informed the patient they would have to operate, and with the patient´s nuance, they used spine fluid as anesthetic so he would be conscious during the surgery that lasted three hours and 15 minutes. The surgeons brought together all the rotula pieces with stainless steel thread. During surgery, says the letter, the president kept in touch with his chief assistant and kept on receiving information and giving instructions on how to handle the situation. Finally, after surgery his left leg was put into a cast and his right shoulder immobilized. Fidel Castro stresses, in conclusion, that at all times he kept handling state affairs as usual and that Cuban revolutionaries know what to do at every moment.

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