Silas

robotsurgeon
The immaculate grey-padded surface of the German Dachser-built operating table was pristine. A sheet of blue surgical absorbent paper spread over it provided an additional barrier against contamination. At one end was a clamped brace for the head, at the other, a double recessed brace for the feet. The addition of arm and wrist braces made the whole thing seem unduly ominous. The surgeon's light, beamed its five brilliant segments over the whole surface as well as the nearby stainless steel table of odd-looking instruments. The rest of the room was in pitch-darkness exacerbated by the brilliance of the surgeon's lamps.

The four robotic arms, were articulated with two elbows each, giving them one-hundred percent mobility and twenty times the dexterity of a human surgeon hung in a resting pose. The screen and computer AI-operator were streamlined and built into the supporting frame giving the whole apparatus the appearance of something out of an alien horror movie.

The surgeon's instruments were also not the normal tools of robotic surgery, I had made them myself. Each instrument had a large interlocking extension attached to it. A normal surgeon would be like a bricklayer trying to use them. These were heavy, cumbersome, but absolutely essential for what was to come. Despite my familiarity I looked at them with a healthy degree of reserve as I approached the table and sat myself on its edge. Then, satisfied all was as it should be, I lay down naked with my head in the rest. It was not necessary for modesty, there would be no-one else present. 

The angle of my head allowed me to monitor a computer screen showing two images of my scalp above and to my right. Cross hairs from light beams showed on the side of my temple, not quite where it should be yet, I decided. My right hand reached out to the keyboard held by an extending arm built onto the table, and pulled it until it was almost touching the bed. I checked I could reach all the keys while my wrist rested in the recess. When everything checked out I raised my left hand and pulled down a hanging microphone at the same time speaking the words 

"Voice Test" 

The screen immediately responded by adding a flashing dialogue box beneath the images, awaiting input indicated by the ticking cursor inside the box.

"Mary had a little lamb," I rattled off. Anything comprehensible would do and then saw the words appear in the box. I had spent months training it to correctly interpret my voice even under duress, so that it would correctly carry out any instructions I gave it. After all, my life would be quite literally in its hands.

"End Voice Test"  I responded, quite satisfied that it was responding correctly.

Using the keyboard I pulled up an additional display.  On the screen the voice dialog box shifted over. I now had four images, all easily read from where I lay.

"Activate SILAS" I commanded.

A red traffic light popped up in the new display and I waited quietly a few minutes for it to go through its start-up routine. When it was ready the light changed to amber and the computer responded verbally.

"SILAS on Stand-by" its electronic voice uttered into the darkened depths of the room. It wasn't aware that I was the only pair of ears to hear it. It was set to work with a panel of surgeons and consultants. I hadn't bothered to change it. Nobody else would hear it either. It and me were completely alone.

I was almost ready. One more test, this time would be the prelude to the 'real' thing. and despite my experience and knowledge of what I was about to do, I still felt as nervous as a kitten.

"Action SILAS: Prepare simulation Alpha, Beta, Four, Zero, Three. Proceed." I ordered.

The traffic light turned green. The whirring noise changed as the servo's began to work, and a robotic arm connected with a scalpel from the nearby tray, then drew the instrument into the illuminated circle. Stopping a short distance from my head.

I maintained my head position and watched while the red crosshairs aligned on the area behind the right temple. The area was already hairless. A black dot painted on the skin centred the target. Me.

Watching as the two robotic arms proceeded with additional tool selection and then went through the actions of cutting actions as programmed, I was satisfied once the simulation ended that everything was ready. I could not delay any longer. It was time.

Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to relax, reassuring myself I could still reach the keys; then adjusted my feet and gave the command that would hopefully change my life.

"Action SILAS: Proceed Operation Alpha, Beta, Four, Zero, Three. Continue."

The foot clamps connected first, locking them securely. Comfortable, but no play. Next came the head clamp, it was snug fitting also with no play. Movement must not occur once the operation was under way. After a thirty second delay giving me time to abort, the hand and arm clamps dropped into place securing me completely from movement and the possibility of self harm.

"SILAS ready to Proceed: Operation Alpha, Beta, Four, Zero, Three. Continue?" The deep mechanical voice spoke awaiting my confirmation.

"Action SILAS: Continue Operation Alpha, Beta, Four, Zero, Three. Proceed."

Having given the final instruction I sighed. Now I could only watch the operation unfold on-screen.

The first incision when it came, stung despite the local anaesthetic I had pre-applied. I wondered briefly if I had misjudged the amount in the injections. Three cuts later and one robot arm secured the flap of skin with a set of small calipers leaving the side of my skull exposed. There was a small amount of blood that seeped into the stain of iodine I'd used to clean the area.

The operation proceeded with a small square section of bone removed, no bigger than a silver dollar. Drilled in the centre a hole big enough to poke a matchstick through. I could see the sweat forming on my forehead. Damn! I had not accounted for the perspiration. I hoped it wouldn't be a problem.

A robotic arm inserted a tiny chipped board that had been insulated in silicone except for six tiny gold contacts that extended out from the side of the chip and one on the top with longer wires; I watched as the robot's actions with a small paddle gently shifted my brain matter around making space for the board, taking care not to allow the contacts to tear and cause internal bleeds. Creepy, even though I had run through this so many times with cadavers it still threw me totally to watch it and feel the activity within my skull. It wasn't pain, there were no nerve receptors there, it was just a feeling of pressure.

It took a further hour for the skull plate to be fully reinserted with the gold electrode protruding from the tiny drilled hole. A robotic arm dried the area, then secured it with fast surgical super glue until it was completely repaired. It then attached a small wired membrane to the gold connectors protruding through, completing all the connections. Leaving it flattened against the skull.

I had decided against stitches, there was only so much I was prepared to take in terms of inflicted pain. It replaced the skin flap and pressing it to the skull allowed the glue to take hold. then also wiped a thin bead along the cuts so they sealed the wound.

 My eyes had closed as the sting of the glue on the cut flesh settled into a throbbing ache. The metallic deep voice broke through my concentration.

"Action SILAS: Operation Alpha, Beta, Four, Zero, Three. Completed"

The clamps rescinded all together with a gasp of hydraulics. I was suddenly free. My hand automatically went up to feel the wound, it was smooth, no ridges, scarring would be minimal. A success.

the arms now withdrew to a distance of a metre back into the resting pose. The light on the screen returned to amber.

Now it was up to the stem cells to complete the connections. I anticipated between three and six months for new generation of tissue after which I would hopefully be permanently wired into the outside world. 

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Wednesday, 08 April 2020
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