March 15, 2006

Pope John Paul shunned medical treatment: book

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - Pope John Paul II played down his ailments
and was often reluctant to receive medical treatment, according
to a book by some of his closest aides, including his personal

The book, which hit the stands on Wednesday, also shows the
Vatican knew the late Pope had symptoms of Parkinson's disease
from 1991, but kept quiet about it for five years.

The 118-page volume, whose title "Let Me Go" is drawn from
the pontiff's last words on April 2 last year, includes a
detailed account of the Pope's medical history by his longtime
doctor, Renato Buzzonetti.

The Pope underwent surgery in 1992 to remove a large
intestinal tumor that was starting to turn malignant, but he
kept silent about his symptoms and pain for several months,
Buzzonetti said, and then delayed submitting himself to the
urgent tests recommended by his doctors.

He had already had a major abdominal operation in 1981
after an assassination attempt.

In 1994, when the Pope slipped in his bath at the Vatican
and broke his right thigh bone, his aides had to convince him
to cancel a trip to Sicily scheduled for the next day.

Two years later, the Pope's many engagements and his
reluctance to undergo surgery again meant the removal of his
inflamed appendix, which had caused him recurring fever and
abdominal pain, had to be "continuously postponed."

In 1996, during a papal visit to Hungary in which John Paul
appeared fatigued, a Vatican spokesman said for the first time
the Pope was suffering from an "extrapyramidal neurological
disorder." The Vatican officially acknowledged it was
Parkinson's disease only in 2003.


"The Pope always had a serene and concrete dialogue with
me," Buzzonetti writes in the book, whose authors also include
John Paul's faithful secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz.

"When it became necessary, he was the first to lucidly
grasp the most pressing needs and quickly make the right
decision. If in some cases there were delays or omissions, it
was a conscious choice," Buzzonetti wrote.

Buzzonetti, who was the Pope's doctor for nearly 27 years,
also gives a graphically descriptive, behind-the scenes
chronicle of his final days, hours and minutes. Most details
had already been published by the Vatican, in an act of unusual
transparency, last September.

The Pope was hospitalized for two periods in February and
March of 2005. During his second stay, he underwent a
tracheotomy and had a tube fitted in his throat to help him
breathe but even then "he asked, with moving ingenuousness,
whether it would be possible to wait until the summer

Buzzonetti recounts how on March 31, three days before his
death, the ailing Pope was attending mass in his chapel when he
felt a "sudden chill and violent shaking."

His temperature quickly rose to nearly 40 degrees Celsius
(104 Fahrenheit). He suffered septic shock caused by an
infection of the urinary tract and cardio-circulatory collapse.

Still, he asked to remain in his Vatican residence, where a
full-time team of doctors were attending him, rather than
return to hospital.

The next morning, the Pope was "conscious and serene" at a
6 a.m. mass in his bedroom. He started slipping in and out of
consciousness at about 7:30 a.m. of April 2, the day he died.

Later in the day he muttered his last comprehensible words
in Polish ("Let me go to the house of the Father") before
entering a coma and dying at 9:37 p.m.