Thursday, April 23, 2009

Well, somebody had to be the first patient

I got a personal tour of Peconic Bay Medical Center's new surgical pavilion last Thursday evening, guided by none other than PBMC CEO Andy Mitchell himself.

The sparkling new, bright white operating rooms are fully decked out with all the latest state-of-the-art gadgetry. OK, gadgetry isn't exactly the right word to describe the millions of dollars' worth of high-tech electronics the five new ORs come equipped with.

Each OR has a control station that's like something out of "Star Trek": a crescent-shaped counter from which keyboards, monitors, buttons and switches emerge.

Andy stood inside the half-moon cockpit flipping switches and pushing buttons, excitedly demonstrating the technological wonders of the 21st century operating room, all the while wearing the expression of a little boy playing with a remote-controlled rocket ship.

The high-intensity lights imbedded in thousands of tiny mirrors, somehow designed so as not to cast shadows. (Go figure.) The ultra-powerful high-definition video cameras that can stream live video of surgery in progress to remote locations around the world. The flat-panel high-definition monitors -- suspended from the ceiling around the OR -- on which surgeons and assistants can view, in great magnification and living color, the area being operated upon. The specially designed air flow system that prevents bacterial infection while the patient is on the operating table.

Thanks to all the new technology, surgeons in Riverhead can consult with surgeons anywhere on the planet during the surgery. They can also view tissue samples in the hospital's own pathology lab -- real-time images -- without ever leaving the OR.

The new facilities are a modern marvel, the stuff of science fiction. I was in awe.

"Have the surgeons and nurses been trained on all this new high-tech stuff?" I asked Andy, as I scrutinized the new laparoscopic equipment, which seemed to be still in its wrapper.

"Oh, yes," he assured me.

I'm glad to hear it. I have a particularly personal interest in this, since I'll soon be having my gall bladder removed in one of those shiny new ORs. It's been bothering me for more than five years, and I finally had a test performed that my doctor's been after me to get done (for about five years now). It showed that my gall bladder is essentially nonfunctioning. I knew it would eventually have to come out. Just about every woman in my family has had her gall bladder out. But I'd procrastinated and procrastinated.

What I didn't realize when I finally made a date with surgeon Augustino Cervone (who did the honors for my mother about six years ago) was that I might be the very first patient in the OR in the Starship Enterprise. The new facility has its maiden voyage May 4. I'm scheduled for surgery May 4 at 7 a.m. Now what were the odds of that happening?

I love technology. I really do. But I wish Dr. Cervone and company would have had a little more time to get familiar with all the switches and gizmos before setting about to remove one of my organs.

I can hear them now. "Hey, what do you suppose this button's for?"

Maybe that's the one that gets my innards on YouTube -- where, incidentally, you can actually view a laparoscopic cholecystectomy -- that's the official name for gall bladder removal ¬­-- courtesy of through the lens of a surgeon's 10-millimeter camera. I stumbled upon that reality show writing this column the other night, when I used Google to find out how to spell laparoscopic. It was fascinating. And gross.

I realize my worries about Dr. Cervone and company being confused by all the new high-tech OR equipment are probably baseless. But what do you expect from a middle-aged woman who hasn't yet mastered the TV/cable box/sound system remote controls?


News flash: After laughing with Andy Mitchell about the bizarre coincidence of my surgery being the first one scheduled in the new facility, he asked if I'd be willing to have the procedure Twittered. Seems surgeons at Mayo Clinic are using Twitter as a teaching tool. I said sure, what the heck. And while we're at it, why not a Web cast? So, guess who's cholecystectomy will be Twittered and videocast on the Web (though probably not live)? This may be taking the concept of "new media" one megapixel too far. But it's a whole new world out there. Details next week -- or follow me on Twitter to find out @civiletti.

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