By Jessica Easthope
The Vatican’s message about Pope Francis’ recovery was vague, but medically it said a lot. One specific piece of information shows that he’s ahead of the curve.
“I was actually quite stunned, in my experience, it’s usually a couple of days before they give the patient clear liquids, before they eat solids,” said Dr. Robert Tiballi, an infectious disease specialist with the Catholic Medical Association. “But from what I read this morning, he was given a solid food meal already.”
The Holy Father’s surgery to remove part of his colon that had narrowed lasted three hours. Dr. Tiballi explained that the damaged part is removed and then the intestine is reconnected.
“They basically snip at one end, snip at the other and reattach, almost like you would a garden hose taking a leak out with a coupling, but then they’re able to sew up the bowel, one piece to the other,” the doctor said.
The condition is called stenosis. It happens when little pockets form inside the intestines and can cause blockage.
“The pope has been suffering from recurrent diverticulitis, which is an inflammation of pouches in the bowel called diverticulosis. When you get infected in that area, it can cause scar tissue development,” said Dr. Tiballi.
Diverticulosis is common and on the rise across the world. In the United States alone, nearly 60 percent of adults over the age of 60 have it. Dr. Tiballi says that’s because the three walls of the bowel weaken.
“Over time with age, the inner lining actually herniates through the muscle walls and forms a balloon-like structure that kind of pops out from the bowel wall and forms an irregular cobble-stoning on the outside of the wall,” he said.
Sometimes people who have diverticulosis don’t know it because there are no obvious symptoms, but those trying to prevent it should stay away from food like seeds and popcorn.
“This can get filled with non-digestible food matter and block fecal matter, which can lead to scar tissue and generalized weakening in that area,” Dr. Tiballi said.
Normally, diverticulosis doesn’t become a threat until your late 40s. The only way to prevent it is to stay on top of getting colonoscopies. Based on his seemingly speedy recovery, Pope Francis most likely had his surgery done laparoscopically through his belly button. He’s expected to stay in the hospital for five days.