Pope Benedict XVI waved reassuringly to well-wishers outside a hospital Friday where he underwent surgery to set a fractured right wrist suffered when he fell in his Alpine vacation chalet.
The 82-year-old pope's overnight accident was the first significant medical issue of his 4-year-old papacy, but doctors said he would suffer no long-term effects and would be able to return to playing piano and writing once the wrist heals. His cast will be removed in a month.
The pontiff's first public appearance of his mountain holiday is scheduled for Sunday in Ivrea, the hometown of his No. 2, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, where he is to deliver his traditional Sunday blessing.
"We hope that his remaining schedule can be preserved," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio.
Despite the accident, the right-handed pope celebrated Mass and had breakfast before going to the hospital, according to a Vatican statement.
Details of the fall were not given, but Dr. Pierluigi Berti, director of the Umberto Parini hospital, where the pope was treated, said it was accidental and not the result of any health condition.
After an X-ray showed the fracture, surgeons performed a successful, 20-minute operation under local anesthesia to treat the fracture in the right wrist, Berti said. The procedure realigns the broken bone fragments.
The German-born pontiff left the hospital about six hours after arriving, greeting doctors and nurses, and smiling and waving with his left arm before climbing into his car. His right arm hung straight by his side, the cast hidden by his white vestments. Once, he pointed to the cast, as if to explain why he wasn't waving with his right hand.
He returned to his mountain retreat in full police escort to continue his vacation in Les Combes in the Val d'Aosta region near the French border, where he is scheduled to stay until July 29.
"I was expecting something lighter," the pope said, apparently referring to the plaster cast, when he was greeted by the women who take care of the papal household in Les Combes.
Dr. Amedeo Mancini, the orthopedic surgeon who performed Friday's operation, said the pope would suffer no long-term effects from the fracture and was expected to fully recover.
"It was a special patient for a routine operation," Mancini said, adding that Benedict was an excellent patient.
The pope was accompanied by his personal physician, Dr. Patrizio Polisca, who said in a statement that Benedict's general health was good.
Despite his age and a history of serious medical problems, Benedict has been remarkably healthy during his four-year pontificate, keeping to a busy schedule and traveling around the world.
In fact, until Friday's surgery, there have been no reported medical problems since he assumed the papacy in 2005.
The most serious issue in his medical record was a hemorrhagic stroke he acknowledged suffering in 1991 that temporarily affected his vision, as well as a fall that knocked him unconscious in 1992. Benedict has said he recovered without permanent damage from either incident.
Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Benedict had slipped in his room at the chalet and was hurt, but that it did not seem serious.
As if to underline the seemingly minor nature of the fall, the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reported it under the page-one headline: "A little accident livens up Benedict XVI's vacation."
One pleasure that he is sure to be denied at least in the near term is playing the piano. The pope is a classical music lover and enjoys playing while on vacation.
With a cast, he also may find it difficult to write, sign documents or bless crowds. In addition, the pontiff had to take off his ring - the large gold Fisherman's ring that signifies his papal authority. The pontiff usually wears it on his right ring finger; as he left the hospital, the ring was visible on his left ring finger.
The ring, which features the figure of St. Peter casting his net from a fisherman's boat, is traditionally kissed by the faithful when they meet the pontiff in a sign of respect.
"We'll see in the next few days how he is able to carry out his functions," Lombardi said. "Surely some things will change" in terms of how he blesses crowds and celebrates Mass, he said.
Benedict, who turned 82 in April, told German media in 2006 that "I've never felt strong enough to plan many long trips."
Since then, however, he has traveled to Australia, the United States, Brazil and most recently to two sub-Saharan African countries among his 12 foreign pilgrimages. While looking tired at times, he has always bounced back.
Benedict has spent two summers at Les Combes in recent years. He said upon arrival that he expected to rest and work during his vacation.
His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, also spent several summers at Les Combes. While John Paul liked to hike, Benedict spends most of his time inside the chalet that looks out on Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps.
Among adults over 65, falls are the leading cause of deaths caused by injuries. The risk of falling increases significantly with age, as older people typically have more problems with eyesight, movement and balance.
Older people also are at increased risk of osteoporosis, a condition which weakens the bones and makes them easier to break - making falls more dangerous.