The ailing, 84 year-old Pope John Paul ll may not be doing much public speaking — ever — following a tracheotomy (a small opening cut into the neck and windpipe, with a breathing tube inserted into it so air can flow directly into the lungs) yesterday to alleviate a breathing crisis caused by an obstruction. He was ordered to avoid speaking for at least several days.
“It was a question of assuring adequate breathing of the patient. … He has a significant feeling of relief,” said papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. “He’s breathing on his own.” There were no signs of fever or pneumonia.
It is unclear how long the tracheotomy tube will remain: in some patients the tube is left permanently, greatly altering speech, some even learn to talk through the tube. Others plug the tube and speak in bursts. None of these options would appear to be conducive to public speaking; and then there is the pope’s Parkinson’s, which makes any kind of coordination even more difficult.
“This is a big problem,” said Vatican Cardinal Renato Martino, mentioning the pope’s temporary inability to speak. Indeed, since communication has been the special hallmark of this pontiff, should he resign if he can no longer speak in public?