John Paul II always accepted pain, never asked for sedatives, reports papal physician

John Paul II
John Paul II

.- In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Italian physician Renato Buzzonetti, recounted his relationship and experiences with John Paul II as his personal physician from 1978 until his death. Among other things, he recalled details about the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt on the late Pope, his willingness to embrace suffering and the last moments of his life.

Dr. Buzzonetti recalled that after five hours of surgery following the attempt on his life on May 13, 1981, John Paul II said to him: “Like Bachelet,” to which he responded, “No, Your Holiness, because you are alive and you will live.”

“I think he mentioned that name because he was very touched by the assassination” of Catholic judge Vittorio Bachelet, who was killed by the Red Brigades on February 12, 1980,” the doctor said. “The Pope knew him because when he was General President of Italian Catholic Action, and he was member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, to which Cardinal Wojtyla belonged.”

Referring to the Parkinson’s disease that struck the Pope in 1991, Buzzonetti said he told the Holy Father “no one ever died” from a shaky hand but that it was a clear sign he was suffering from the disease. “The Pope’s life was more complicated later because of the painful joint symptoms that were particularly intense in his right knee, which prevented John Paul II from standing up and walking briskly. These were two symptoms that, put together and intertwined, made it necessary for him to use a cane and later a wheelchair.”

Despite all of the pain, the doctor said, the Holy Father “never asked for sedatives, not even in his final stages. It was above all the pain of a man who was enclosed, prostrate on a bed or in a chair, who had lost physical autonomy. He couldn’t do anything by himself, and eventually he was completely physically disabled: he could not walk, he couldn’t speak other than with a weak voice, his breathing was labored and short, he ate with increasing difficulty.”

Buzzonetti said a particularly dramatic moment during the Pope’s final days came when he had to receive a tracheotomy. “Upon getting himself up after the anesthesia, after having given his consent, he realized he could no longer speak. Suddenly he found himself facing an extremely difficult reality. On a little chalkboard he wrote, 'What have you done to me. Totus tuus (totally yours)'.”

“It was the realization of the new state in which he had fallen, suddenly exalted by the act of trust in Mary.”

Buzzonetti said the last few days with John Paul II were especially intense. “I felt extremely tense because of the great responsibility that was on my shoulders … My colleagues and I were aware that the disease was … in its final phase. Our battle had been waged with patience, humility and prudence, which was extremely difficult because we knew it would end in defeat.”

He also revealed that he once tried to resign as the Pope’s physician but the Holy Father would not accept it. “It is the will of the Holy Father” that you continue, he was told by the Pope’s secretary, now-Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.

“For the Christian doctor, the dying man is the image of the Lord,” Dr. Buzzonetti said. “Every man has his wounds, carries his crown of thorns, stutters his last words, and abandons himself into the hands of someone who renews the gestures of Mary, of the holy women, of Joseph of Arimathea. The death of John Paul II engaged me even more,” he said.

The physician said the death of Pope Wojtyla “was the death of man divested of everything, who had lived through times of struggle and of glory and who was interiorly stripped of everything to meet the Lord and return the keys of the Kingdom. At that hour of pain and astonishment, I had the sensation of being on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The story was reset, as Christ was preparing to call the new Peter.”

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