08 April 2005

Farewell to Lolek, Santo Subito!


The boy in the picture is Lolek. This picture was taken during his First Communion, when he was 9 years old. The inset is an undated photo taken when he was much younger.

What can you say about this boy?

He looked sturdy and athletic even at an early age. Later on in his life, he would really be leading an athletic life engaging in swimming, kayaking, skiiing, canoeing, and even mountain climbing. He would also be a talented theatre actor and had a flair for writing poems and plays.

with mother teresaYou wouldn't think that kind of profile would give you Pope material? But Pope he did become on October 16, 1978. He became the Catholic church's third longest serving Pope at 26 years, second only to Saint Peter's 34 years and Pope Pius IX's 31 years.

Battered by Parkinson's Disease since being diagnosed in 1996, Lolek's body succumbed to a "urinary tract infection, followed by a brief heart stoppage, septic shock, and apparent multiple-organ failure."

Ask any neurologist about Parkinson's Disease, and he will tell you it is an incurable ailment characterized by loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Manifestations include trembling hands, a rigid gait, a stooped posture, poor muscle control, and memory/cognitive impairments.

If you look at his picture on the left with Mother Teresa, you will note that he still had an upright posture there. But over the years, he developed a stooped posture (see the succeeding photo and notice the curvature of the spine) which became instrumental in worsening his health condition.

stooped postureThe stooped posture compresses the Parkinson patient's lungs, making it difficult for him to breathe, and making him vulnerable to respiratory infections. Two months ago, in February, when the Pope was confined at the Gemelli Hospital in Italy, a tracheostomy operation was done on him so that he can be helped with his breathing and also to make it easy to suction off secretions from his respiratory tract.

The problem with tracheostomies is that with time, the tube inserted in the patient's throat can be a haven for infectious microorganisms and further add to the respiratory infection load. It also makes swallowing difficult and patients usually lose weight after some time. The Pope was reported to have lost 19 pounds of his weight from the time of his tracheostomy to the time of his grave illness 2 weeks ago. Poor nutrition is bad news from someone fighting off infections.

Last March 27, Easter Sunday, the Pope made a brief appearance but was unable to speak like he used to. Several days later, he was reported to have contracted a urinary tract infection (UTI), which gave him a high fever. The poor nutrition, the ravages of Parkinson's Disease aggravating both his respiratory and urinary bladder muscle control, did him in. He expired on April 2, 2005.

I have always wondered what Lolek meant and why he was called like that. Reports say that it was really "Lolek the Goalie," and that the reason was his fiery love for football. In my research for Lolek's meaning, I've come across Pub Lolek in Poland, and if you see the pub's logo, you will note an elephant there. I surmise that it was because of heft, strength, and might that he was given that monicker. No less than Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, his old mentor in Poland, called him as "my rugged mountaineer." But I could be wrong you know. Feel free to correct me if you are able to find better information about his Lolek nickname.

As I type this, it is nearly six in the evening here in Manila, and nearly twelve noon in the Vatican. The funeral mass is about to end. Almost all world leaders are in attendance: 4 kings, 5 queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers and more than 14 leaders of other religions. The crowd of various nationalities has been estimated to be more than 5 million.

with world leaders

I see the Pope's cypress coffin and the TV announcer said this symbolizes the Pope's humility even in death. Soon this will be brought under St. Peter's Basilica, and he will be "interred beneath a marble slab in the Vatican grottos, a low-ceilinged warren which lies between the new basilica, built in the 16th Century."

Godspeed, Lolek.

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