I’ve always been a bit of a hypochondriac. Headaches are possible brain tumors. Extreme fatigue could be cancer. And any inkling of chest pain sends me into a tailspin akin to Fred Sanford. (“You hear that Elizabeth? I’m comin’ to join you!”)
So when I learned that I needed to have to have surgery to remove my gallbladder and that surgery was going to be performed using a robot, I knew I was a goner.
Depending upon your perspective, robotic surgery is either cutting edge and exciting (most people’s perspective) or terrifying (my perspective). Basically, the surgeon sits at a special console many feet from (but ostensibly in the same room as) the patient. A very small 3D camera and dime-sized surgical instruments are placed inside the patient (i.e., me) through tiny incisions. Using the console’s hand and foot controls, the surgeon remotely moves robotic arms attached to surgical instruments. It’s less like surgery and more like Grand Theft Auto: The Operation Edition.
So why did I opt for the robot? Because I really like Dr. Robbins. He reminds me of a cross between Ben Stein and Stuart Smalley—he suffers fools lightly, and he’s good enough and smart enough to get the job done. Plus when I asked him if he’d go old-school, he agreed with one caveat: “driving” the robot was like driving an automatic after years of a standard transmission automobile. He can drive the standard, no problem—but he’d rather drive the automatic.
So I agreed to let Dr. Roboto do its thing. I began to refer to it as “Johnny 5” (after the beloved robot in the ‘80s movie, “Short Circuit”) because (1) Johnny 5 was alive—something I aspired to be after the procedure, and (2) I respected its “no disassemble” philosophy. Turns out, I made the right choice:
- My surgery was at 7:30 a.m., and I was home by 1:30 p.m.
- I have a single, tiny incision versus the multiple incisions inherent in a traditional laparoscopic procedure.
- Everything seems to be healing exactly as it should—I’m basically a textbook, best-case robot scenario. (Turns out, the robot comes in peace. Domo arigato, Dr. Roboto.)
Still, I did learn one lesson that I will take with me should I ever have to endure certain death again: knowledge is only power if you can do something with or about it.
I was actually more terrified of the anesthesia than I was of Johnny 5. When I met the anesthesiologist, I mentioned my terror (I used that exact word) and informed him that the last time I was under anesthesia, my blood pressure fell rather dramatically. He said that was normal. In fact, he said, “The initial drug we give you makes your blood pressure plummet. Immediately thereafter, the intubation makes your blood pressure skyrocket.” Then he paused, nodded to himself thoughtfully, and continued: “That’s probably the most dangerous part of the anesthesia.” And with that, I was whisked away to the operating room. Sweet dreams.
Before I sign off, I have to mention that I was struck by the nurses’ overwhelmingly correct use of the term “nauseated” throughout my brief stay. Everyone I encountered asked if I was “nauseated”; no one asked if I was “nauseous.” Although most everyone ignores this rule nowadays, the word “nauseated” means you feel sick whereas the word “nauseous” means “to induce nausea.” For example, you’d say, “The smell of eggs is nauseous” or “The smell of eggs nauseates me.” Outside of a hospital situation, nearly everyone interchanges the two, but not within the confines of Beaumont Hospital.
So what about you? Know anyone who’s had robot surgery? And if you were going to name your robot surgeon, what would you call it?