VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II was resting comfortably and breathing on his own Friday, the day after doctors at a Rome hospital performed a tracheostomy to relieve a recurring respiratory problem.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pope’s heart and circulatory system remain good and there was no sign of pneumonia, a major worry for elderly patients in poor health.
The tracheostomy involves opening a small passage through the neck to the windpipe and inserting a tube so air can flow directly to the lungs.
As a result, the pope will be unable to speak for several days, Navarro-Valls said.
Although this is the ailing pontiff’s second visit to the hospital in a month, and there are growing concerns about his ability to carry on as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Navarro-Valls was eager to appear upbeat about the pope’s condition at Friday’s briefing for journalists.
He said the pope had a hearty appetite, consuming a cafe latte, a yogurt and 10 small biscuits for breakfast.
He also said that when the pope awoke from the anesthetic after his operation, he wrote a note to his aides: “What have they done to me?”
“He meant it kiddingly, of course” Navarro-Valls said.
But the pope went on to write, “I am still totus tuus.” This is the pope’s Latin motto. It means “completely yours” and refers to the dedication of his mission to the Virgin Mary.
The pope’s return to the hospital just two weeks after he was discharged from a 10-day stay is hardly a good sign.
The pope was rushed to the hospital Feb. 1 after tracheal spasms caused severe breathing problems. The Vatican said the pope was suffering from the aftereffects of a recent flu.
He appeared to be making an encouraging recovery, but on Thursday the breathing problems returned and the pope was again rushed to the hospital.
The 84-year-old pontiff suffers from Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative neurological condition that has adversely affected his speech, severely limited his activities and may impede his recuperation from the latest crisis.
Navarro-Valls stressed that Thursday’s surgery was an elective procedure, not an emergency one. But in St. Peter’s Square, the faithful were still concerned.
“I am very worried about the pope,” said Helen Reychler, a 26-year-old Belgian.
“He is really like a father to us all. He is such a `human-contact pope that when he is not there for you, you realize it very quickly. You miss that holy father spirit that is so comforting in this world full of anxiety.”
Elisabeth Young and Anne Charlton, tourists from London, said they had been following the news on Italian television and in the newspapers.
“I reckon he is probably near the end this time,” said Young, who is a doctor. “We were looking forward to seeing him at his window giving his Sunday speech, but sadly that will not happen. We will know over the next few days what is meant to be.”
Navarro-Valls said it has not yet been decided whether the pope will make his customary appearance Sunday. The next medical update is scheduled for Monday.