The Dallas Morning News
Friday, October 22, 2004

Castro awake for surgery

He refuses to be put under for procedure to repair knee after fall

By TRACEY EATON / The Dallas Morning News

HAVANA His kneecap shattered and his arm broken after a nasty fall, Fidel Castro refused to let doctors put him to sleep during surgery, showing his determination not to lose control of his nation's affairs, if even for a moment.

Mr. Castro, 78, chose epidural anesthesia, commonly used in childbirth to reduce pain, so he could stay awake as surgeons used stainless steel wire to stitch together his left knee, broken in eight places, state-run media said Friday.

The three-hour and 15-minute operation Thursday was "an unforgettable experience," the Cuban president wrote afterward.

Mr. Castro stumbled and fell Wednesday night after speaking at a graduation ceremony in Santa Clara in central Cuba. In a letter published Friday in Cuba's Granma newspaper, he blamed the mishap on the euphoria of the moment and "the law of gravity, discovered some time ago by Newton."

Mr. Castro said his 171-mile ambulance ride back to Havana was "comfortable" despite potholes in the road. And along the way, he spoke by mobile phone with a number of friends, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Toward the end of the president's account, the letter switches to the third person and Mr. Castro is referred to as "the patient."

Some Cubans think that's because Mr. Castro had help writing the letter. Others disagree, saying it's sometimes the president's style to remove himself from situations and refer to himself in the third person.

U.S. officials weren't sympathetic. Asked Thursday if he wished Mr. Castro a speedy recovery, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "No. ... The situation of Mr. Castro is of little concern to us, but unfortunately of enormous importance to the people of Cuba, who have suffered very long under his role." Castro loyalists are offended by such talk.

"There will always be these reactions, and the enemy will look for excuses to attack Fidel. But there are a lot of educated young people ready to carry on his work," said Carlos Manuel Ramos, 77, a former fighter in Cuba's revolutionary forces. "We're not taking a single step back. Our enemies would have to kill off the entire populace."