The Physician Who Treated John Paul II in Hospital

Interview With Dr. Rodolfo Proietti of Gemelli Polyclinic

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ROME, FEB. 17, 2005 ( The physician who looked after John Paul II during his recent hospitalization says the Pope’s general health is good, though he is still convalescing.

Dr. Rodolfo Proietti, who is in charge of the emergency ward of Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic, usually shuns media attention, but he agreed to this interview with by the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

Q: Professor Proietti, for a few days you were one of the professionals most in sight and at the same time one of the most unapproachable. How did it come about that you were to head the team that looked after the Holy Father?

Proietti: For quite a simple reason. As everyone knows, the Holy Father was admitted to the Gemelli Polyclinic as an emergency. In these cases, the responsibility to coordinate the medical team is up to the director of the emergency and admission department, the role that I had at that moment. I continued to follow his case because the diagnosis was within my competency.

Q: Everything occurred under public scrutiny, which was affected and pained by what was happening to a very sick Pope. However, some saw a certain vagueness or terseness in the objective reasons given for the hospitalization. Can you tell us if there are any mysteries in the Pope’s state of health?

Proietti: There are no mysteries. The reason for the hospitalization, as has been said several times in press statements, was solely the “acute laryngeal tracheitis with episodes of larynx-spasm” — acute laryngeal tracheitis which fortunately was resolved with relative speed and without other complications.

The incident occurred in the physical structure of an 84-year-old person marked — as all can see — by prior illnesses, but with a very strong constitution.

Q: It was also insinuated that the hospital’s communication was expropriated in reporting the course of the illness. Is this true?

Proietti: Nothing was expropriated from the medical team. On the contrary, by common agreement it was decided that the so-called medical bulletins, written by the doctors, should be read by those responsible in the Press Office of the Holy See and of the Gemelli Polyclinic.

Personally, I think it is for the doctor to write the bulletin but not necessarily to read it, especially when the clinical evolution, as in this case, takes place with regularity and in the absence of unexpected or particularly serious events.

Also for this reason, it was decided to limit the press statements to no more than one daily. We didn’t want to hide anything, as can be seen from the conclusion of the event. Far more simply, and fortunately, we had nothing to add.

Q: In contrast to the initial concerns, there was quite a rapid evolution [of the illness] and in the end, the time of discharge from the hospital was shortened. Is this a mistaken impression?

Proietti: It is a correct impression. The time of recovery was much faster than we initially expected.

All the diagnostic explorations carried out showed the good and rapid response to the therapies, the resolution of the acute laryngeal tracheitis, and the absence of complications. For this reason, we were able to bring forward the Holy Father’s discharge by one day.

Q: So far as you can tell, how is the Pope now?

Proietti: Certainly, in generally good condition, although he will have to conclude the period of convalescence.

It is known that, after an acute inflammation, the organism needs time to recover its energies fully. In this regard, the Holy Father is no exception.

Q: I imagine that for a hospital to receive such a famous guest is like introducing a kind of stimulant into the ordinary rhythm and channels, or am I mistaken?

Proietti: I would say that such events necessarily put any hospital to the test. But the problem is that one must always be ready to handle them the best way.

In any case, the hospital is called to give the best to the famous guest without diminishing in any way the care given to the other patients.

To achieve this objective, for some years now the Gemelli Polyclinic has been equipped with a “Plan for the Management of Emergencies,” which consists in being able to respond to exceptional and unforeseen interventions — famous guests, but also the simultaneous arrival of many wounded after a disaster — without interfering with the hospital’s ordinary activity.

I would say that, this time also, the plan worked perfectly. In modern medicine, good programming is important, without leaving anything to chance or improvisation.

Q: What is your personal experience of these two last weeks?

Proietti: The enormous emotion, the honor of looking after the Holy Father and, in doing so, understanding what each patient should represent for the doctor and the way in which the doctor should live his mission.

It has been, for me, an enormous privilege. And at the end of 10 days, which kept me very close to the Holy Father, I have emerged with the awareness that I received much more than what I gave — more profound feelings, which I will hardly forget, which I would like to keep private.

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