Pope Recovering from Surgery, Advised Not to Speak

Pope John Paul II is breathing on his own and is not suffering from pneumonia, the Vatican said Friday, after the 84-year-old pontiff was rushed to a hospital and underwent surgery to ease another breathing crisis.

"He's breathing on his own and cardio-circulatory conditions remain good," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "Assisted means mechanical, which wasn't used yesterday, nor last night, nor this morning. There was no need."

"Upon the advice of his doctors, the pope must not speak for several days, so as to favor the recovery of the functions of the larynx," he added.

According to the Associated Press, the Vatican had said late Thursday that the pontiff was conscious and "serene" after tracheotomy surgery to cut a small hole in his neck and insert a tube. Navarro-Valls said it was not clear how long the tube would remain.

"The doctors will decide," he said.

It was shortly before 11 a.m. on Wednesday, when the Pope was admitted to the Gemelli Polyclinic after showing signs of a relapse of the flu syndrome that had affected him in preceding weeks.

According to Italian news agency ANSA (Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata), the Pope was taken into Gemelli Polyclinic in a stretcher after arriving conscious in a private ambulance. The report quoted people who saw him enter the Rome hospital as saying his face looked "quite relaxed.” Shortly afterwards, Navarro-Valls reported that the pope was taken to the hospital for "opportune specialized treatment and for further tests."

Vatican officials said on condition of anonymity that the Pope was stricken with breathing problems similar to those that sent him to Gemelli on Feb. 1 for a 10-day stay, and Italian news reports said the latest respiratory crisis was even more severe than the first one.

Navarro-Valls said the Pope had been informed of his situation and gave approval for the operation. The pontiff's flu symptoms had worsened in recent days with renewed respiratory problems, leading to the decision to perform the tracheotomy, the spokesman said.

Reporters were told that the Pope was given a mild anesthetic and the operation that doctors performed to cut a small breathing hole in his neck "was not an emergency procedure."

Yet, despite this reassurance, the pontiff's latest hospitalization has further fueled speculation about whether he can continue as pope, and what would happen if he were incapacitated.

Because of his ailments, there has long been speculation that the Pope might consider resigning. That debate was fueled during his hospitalization earlier this month when the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, declined to rule out that possibility, saying such matters should be left entirely to the Pope who "knows what to do". In addition to the flu, the Pope also suffers from Parkinson's disease and crippling knee and hip ailments.

Navarro-Valls said a decision would be made Saturday on what the pope will do for his Sunday noon blessing, a tradition very dear to the pontiff.