Need Surgery? The Robot Is In
Machines monitoring an elderly man’s vital signs emit steady beeps while a surgeon uses one arm to grasp a dissector and deftly peel layers of tissue from the patient’s cancerous bladder. Another arm snips at the base of the fleshy organ with a steel claw while a third manipulates a tiny camera that sends gorgeous images of glistening innards onto video screens all around the darkened room. Every now and then, a fourth arm cauterizes blood vessels shut with bloodless precision. It takes several hours to dissect and remove the bladder but those arms, working through abdominal holes no wider than a pen, never hesitate and never tire.
The eerily precise and silent surgeon hovering over the Madison patient last month in a UW Hospital operating room was a robot named da Vinci, after Leonardo Da Vinci, the 15th century Italian genius who made sketches and then a wooden model of the world’s first human robot. Modern-day da Vincis have revolutionized the surgical world in the past few years, achieving a level of precision and visibility that once would have been unimaginable.
They have not, however, completely replaced human doctors. Every move of UW Hospital’s 2,500-pound giant was being controlled at an operating room console by Dr. Jason Gee and Dr. David Jarrard. They were pioneering yet another new use of robotics — this time for a cystectomy, or bladder removal and reconstruction. "The technology is an extension of our hands," said Gee.