While in the Royal Marsden yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Spring edition of their magazine. The lead article is titled “Gift of robot boosts surgery and training” (well worth a read!). So even though I haven’t gone into detail yet about my biopsy or MRI etc (Spoiler Alert: it was cancer…), I decided I would first tell the amazing story of my own da Vinci experience.
It was 8am on Friday 6th February and I was waiting patiently in a Royal Marsden cubicle (in full hospital garb of course: gown; disposable fishnet knickers and thigh-high white compression stockings). The consultant and his team came in and explained that they would be using a brand new robot for my surgery. Yikes! I had no idea what it was, but he seemed very excited about it which filled me with confidence.
Shortly after they left, a chap wearing blue scrubs came in. He was vast – admittedly I was sitting down, but he appeared to be about 8 ft tall and was absolutely stacked. Sporting a thin silver chain and friendly grin, he introduced himself as the anaesthetist. Listening to his (possibly) Austrian accent, I could feel a smile spread across my face and fought hard to dispel the bubble of laughter that was rising inside me. As it happened, the anaesthetist put paid to any laughter when he warned me that after my operation my face might be “a bit big”. Images of the Nutty Professor, Hey Arnold and Theme Hospital patients with ‘bloaty-head’ syndrome all swam through my mind. A bit big??! Apparently, as I would be lying head down for the surgery (which would last 4-6 hours), the blood-flow to my face could cause it to swell up. And with that cheery news he left, promising “I’ll be back!” *
As soon as he had gone, I turned to my boyfriend in delight.
“Is that the new robot???? He’s very life-like!”
And how I laughed. If there’s one thing that having cancer has given me (and actually there are quite a lot of things!), it’s an unprecedented capacity to laugh at my own jokes. Because, obviously, I Am Hilarious. This one had me in stitches (!) for at least the next 15 minutes.
As you may have guessed, the robot that the surgical team were so excited about wasn’t in fact a version of the Terminator who happens to specialise in anaesthesiology (and if it were, I would certainly suggest a change of name for patients’ peace of mind). The robot in question is a four-armed surgical extravaganza named ‘da Vinci Xi’.
In brief, the Royal Marsden became the first hospital in the UK to buy the new da Vinci Xi robot thanks to a large and generous donation from Don McCarthy and family. The hospital previously had a similar robot (the da Vinci S), but this new model is more advanced, more dextrous, more flexible… It means, as I understand it, that surgeries can be quicker and more accurate which in turn results in faster recovery times.
The contraption has four arms with tiny blades on them and can be controlled by two surgeons sitting side by side in what looks like some sort of gaming arcade (this means it can be used for training). Amazingly, it is actually more dextrous than a human and it therefore ‘miniaturises’ the surgeons’ movements, meaning a more accurate, delicate procedure. What’s more, the surgeons are even able to see a 3D view inside the patient via da Vinci.
Unbeknown to me, this robot performed its inaugural surgery on a colorectal cancer patient at the Royal Marsden at the very end of January (it was reported by newspapers such as The Telegraph, The Evening Standard and the Metro on 29th/30th January). For those of a strong disposition, there is even a video here which shows exactly how it works; it is absolutely brilliant. Anyway, looking at the dates I was definitely one of the very first people in the whole country to be operated on by this incredible machine. In fact, I was possibly the first gynae patient full stop (possibly not, but if nobody cares to correct me there I will claim it and pronounce myself a pioneer!).
It’s odd seeing these photos of the robot at work and thinking that is what happened to me. In fact I can’t actually get my head around that at all, however much I try. But I can say this – 4 weeks ago I underwent a Radical Trachelectomy and Lymphadenectomy (I’ll explain another time) where my cervix and 27 pelvic lymph nodes were removed. I am already well on the road to recovery.
This photo shows what my stomach looks like today. Before the operation I looked extensively into what the external damage would be and couldn’t find much about it, so I hope that this picture will reassure anyone else about to have the same procedure with how very small the incisions are. I had 6 entry points in total. One disappeared in days (it was only from a needle where they pump in air), and another was in my belly button so it is also invisible. In a few more weeks, and with a bit of Bio Oil, I’ve no doubt that the worst scar on my whole abdomen will be just above my belly button. And that was from a piercing I took out over 10 years ago.
In conclusion – thank you to the Royal Marsden, thank you to da Vinci Xi, and THANK YOU to Don McCarthy and his children – your generosity has made a huge difference to my life.
* He definitely didn’t say that, but it makes a better story. The rest is all true.
Caroline Crimson x