ROME – When it was disclosed Sunday that Pope Francis was suffering from a specific condition affecting the colon, the announcement itself and subsequent updates about his condition have included a swath of specialized medical terms that likely have most not familiar with the procedure scratching their heads.
News first broke Sunday afternoon that Pope Francis would be heading to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital to have a pre-scheduled surgery on his colon due to a “stenotic diverticulitis.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, the condition can be broken down like this:
Stenotic: A constriction or narrowing of a duct or passage. In the pope’s case, it was the colon, meaning it was blocked or restricted in some way.
Diverticulitis: The infection or inflammation of pouches that can form inside the lining of the intestines.
The presence of the pouches themselves, called “diverticula,” is known as “diverticulosis.” Most often, the pouches are found in the colon, and are common in people over 40, although they rarely cause problems.
However, when one or more of the pouches become inflamed or infected, usually because of a tear, that condition is known as “diverticulitis,” which can cause problems such as abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and a change in bowel patterns.
Mild cases of diverticulitis can often be treated with rest and a change to diet and antibiotics, whereas more severe cases, such as that of Pope Francis, require surgery.
Some of the biggest risk factors contributing to diverticulitis are aging, obesity, eating a diet high in animal fats, a lack of exercise, and smoking, among others.
On Monday, the day after Pope Francis was admitted, the Vatican informed journalists that following the 3-hour procedure called a “hemicolectomy,” he was in “good general condition” and would be admitted for up to seven days, pending any complications.
A hemicolectomy, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a type of surgery in which part of the large intestine, the colon, is removed. In Pope Francis’s case, a portion of the left side of his colon was removed, although the Vatican did not disclose how much of it had to be taken out.
In Tuesday’s medical bulletin, the Vatican said Pope Francis had slept well during the night and ate breakfast, read some newspapers, and went for a walk that morning. They described his post-op status as “regular,” saying his regular checkups were “good.”
On Wednesday, the Vatican said the pope’s recovery “continues to be regular and satisfactory,” that he has continued eat and that infusion therapy had been “suspended.”
It was also stated that “The final histological examination has confirmed a severe diverticular stenosis with signs of sclerosing diverticulitis.”
In a nutshell, here’s what that means:
Infusion Therapy: When medication or fluids are administered either through a needle or catheter. This form of treatment is typically used for medication that cannot be taken orally, or which needs to be administered at a controlled pace.
Histological (Histology): An exam conducted on (or the study of) tissues and cells under a microscope. This means that Pope Francis’s doctors took tissue samples from the portion of colon that was removed and studied them to see what they could find. In this case, they found signs of “a severe diverticular stenosis.”
Sclerosis: This is described as a localized or pathological hardening of the skin, usually caused by an underlying condition, such as diabetes or scleroderma. In the pope’s case, it means the tissue in the area effected by the diverticulitis had begun to harden.
In brief, then, Pope Francis’s condition can best be summed up as a restriction of the colon either caused or aggravated by the inflammation or infection of diverticula, the pouches that had developed in his colon, and the hardening of tissue in the colon as a result.
In general, doctors who aren’t familiar with the specifics of Francis’s case have been hesitant to comment on his condition, but most have said the problems the pope is experiencing are common for people his age.
Although he is expected stay in the hospital for just seven days, it could take weeks for the pope to recover enough to resume his normal duties.
Currently on summer vacation, Pope Francis is expected to have a busy fall schedule, beginning with a September visit to Hungary and Slovakia.
The Vatican also announced recently that it had indicted nine people on criminal charges related to a shady London real estate deal, with formal proceedings expected to continue this fall, after the summer holiday.
Pope Francis is also preparing to publish a new apostolic constitution governing the role and structure of the Roman curia, which is expected to be released in the fall, and he is overseeing an initial consultative phase in a 3-year preparation process for a 2023 Synod of Bishops on the topic of synodality.
In their communique Wednesday, the Vatican said Pope Francis has been “touched by the many messages and the affection” he has received over the past few days, and that he had expressed his gratitude “for the closeness and prayer” of so many.
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