Chicken and Mate: Pope's health from the large intestine to the sciatica

Issued on: May 7th, 2021 – 14:30Changed: 05/07/2021 – 14:28

Vatican City (AFP)

Pope Francis, who has just been operated on for an inflamed colon, is otherwise said to be in relatively good health, even though part of his lungs were removed at a young age.

So far, the 84-year-old’s greatest ailment appeared to be sciatica, a chronic nervous condition that causes back, hip and leg pain and has occasionally forced him to cancel official events.

He has called the condition “a nuisance guest”.

Francis almost died when he was 21 after developing pleurisy – inflammation of the tissue that surrounds the lungs – according to biographer Austen Ivereigh.

In October 1957, part of one of his lungs was removed.

Recalling the incident in a recent book called Let Us Dream, he said, “I have a sense of how people with coronavirus feel when they have difficulty breathing with ventilators.”

The Argentine Pope also spoke about the surgical removal of cysts from the upper lobe of his right lung in an interview about his state of health with the renowned Argentine journalist and doctor Nelson Castro.

He insisted that he “had fully recovered … and felt no restrictions since then”.

In January, Francis received the coronavirus vaccine along with his predecessor, ex-Pope Benedict XVI.

As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis was treated for back pain by a Chinese acupuncturist, Ivereigh wrote in The Tablet Catholic weekly in May.

At the end of his time as Provincial of the Jesuits, he suffered “an almost fatal gallstone infection” and in 2004 had “brief” problems with his heart after a slight narrowing of an artery, said the biographer.

Problems with “fatty liver” were overcome by changing diet.

– ‘Walk like a brooding chicken’ –

The Pope’s characteristic limp, which becomes more pronounced when he looks tired, is more due to a flat foot than his sciatica, said Francis Castro for his book The Health of the Popes.

“If you see me running like a brooding chicken, it is because of this suffering,” said the Pope.

Francis, who as Jorge Bergoglio was head of the Jesuit order during the brutal military dictatorship of Argentina in the 1970s, had also sought psychological support beforehand.

Castro said he spoke to “a great psychologist” once a week for six months during the dictatorship to help him with anxiety.

Today he deals with it by listening to Bach or sipping “mate”, a popular Argentine herbal drink.

The Pope is supposed to go to bed at 9 p.m. and read for an hour before going to sleep for six hours and waking up at 4 a.m. every day. Lunch is always followed by a 45-minute nap.

Francis’ Sunday operation was planned and performed under general anesthesia to treat symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon.

The condition causes potentially painful inflammation of the diverticulum, a pocket that can form on the walls of the colon and that increases with age.

People with diverticulitis may experience pelvic pain, fever, or rectal bleeding.

Francis underwent a left hemicolectomy, which removed the descending colon – the part that was attached to the rectum.

Ivereigh noted, “How freely and transparently Francis speaks of his various physical and psychological states. Imagine any other head of state exposing himself like this: Biden? The Queen?”

“How far we are from the Vatican, which refuses to acknowledge Parkinson’s disease, anyone could see in the face of John Paul II,” he wrote in The Tablet.