Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Papal Medicine

A bit off my usual topics, but I thought it might be interesting to talk a bit about the Pope and his medical condition. It is well known that he has Parkinson's disease, and you can see his tremor, masked facies(not a lot of facial expression), slow movement, and other manifestations. In late stages(I am not making a claim that this is going on, merely that it is possible) you can see dementia, trouble with swallowing and the gag reflex, and other things. Obviously he had pneumonia once or twice, and recently had a tracheostomy(making an incision in the front of the neck and inserting a tube that goes into the trachea, thus for the purpose of breathing the mouth and upper airway is bypassed). A tracheostomy is usually indicated if a patient has been on a ventillator(breathing machine) for a long time(more than a week or so), if long term breathing machine usage is going to be neccessary, or if the patient cannot clear their secretions(cough out the inevitable junk that winds up in the trachea)(it is easier to pass a suction tube into the lungs through a tracheostomy than down through the mouth, which is nearly impossible while awake). It is NOT the usual treatment for pneumonia, unless one of the above conditions is present as well. Conclusion: The Pope's Parkinson's has worsened to the point he cannot keep his lungs clear, and the tracheostomy is probably a permanent neccessity. The sad part is that it is difficult to talk with a tracheostomy, unless it has a special attachment that lets the air flow up and out the mouth in the usual fashion(called, of course, a talking trach). If it weren't for that device, we might never hear the Pope speak again. It may be time to start stocking up on wood for the Cardinal's convention.

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