Thursday, 2 February 2012


The operating theatre was chilly, and the patient's table had to be heated to avoid them waking up with frostbite in their extremities.  It wasn't heated quite enough to be comfortable though, as the chill of the table helped depress the CNS and improved the anaesthetic's effects at lower doses.  The patient lay still, waiting for the anaesthetic to do its job while the doctor stood over him, the anaesthetician sat by his head, and various nurses bustled around looking busy.
"That's it, he's gone!" said the anaesthetician chirpily.  He flicked the patient's nose with his thumb and forefinger to prove it, and elicited no reaction.
"Great," said the doctor.  "Everyone out, except you, of course, Jules."
The anaesthetician nodded, and pushed his stool back against the wall of the operating theatre.  He watched as the other medical staff left, leaving the white, sterile space empty.  The wall he was leaning against was tiled and cold, and he shivered a little and sat upright to keep warmer.  His equipment, mostly a few monitors and gauges, some tanks of gas and some clear plastic tubing running from the tanks to the patient formed a compact block at the head of the table, and the monitor beeped reassuringly every five seconds.
When the doctor and nurses were all clear a klaxon sounded and a red light started flashing.  Slowly, a section of tiled wall slid aside to reveal a rising metal shutter, and when the shutter was completely open the klaxon shut off.  From the space revealed, the robo-doc emerged.  It was an insectile metal creation with twelve arms, each ending in a different kind of manipulator: scalpel, tongs, forceps, fine needles and thin spatulate metal strips.  Some conducted, others were fibre-optically enabled.  The robo-doc rolled forward on caterpillar treads, strangely silent for its size and menacing profile, and approached the table.
"Dr. Sprocket, can you hear me?"  The presiding surgeon's voice came from a speaker hanging from the ceiling.  It didn't echo, as the echoes appeared to confuse the robot.
"I can hear you, Surgeon," replied the robo-doc.
"On the table is the patient.  They are in need first of diagnosis, and then of surgery."
"You have already diagnosed the patient," replied the robo-doc as it rolled closer to the table.  "Otherwise you would not know that the patient will need surgery."
"Indeed," replied the surgeon.  "If our diagnoses concur then you will perform the surgery; otherwise we will delay the surgery while we find out why our diagnoses disagree."
"The patient has a damaged knee," said the robo-doc, a camera hand sweeping over the prone form.  "Initiating X-ray blast."
Jules dived for cover behind his equipment, wishing that he'd remembered to bring a lead-screen in from one of the other operating theatres.  There was a moment when the whole room seemed to turn purple, and then everything seemed a little darker.
"How strong was your X-ray?" asked the surgeon, his voice sounding slightly distant now.
"400 milli-sieverts," said the robo-doc.  "However, I can tolerate much higher doses without ill-effect."
"How about the patient?"  Was that acid in the surgeon's voice.  Jules, annoyed to be overlooked, stuck his head up and said, "And what about me?"
"Collateral damage is inevitable," said the robo-doc.  "It will be minimised.  Ah, the X-ray's indicate that the patient has a duodenal blockage as well.  Surgery will be required to remove the patient's knee and unlock the patient."
"Bad diagnosis," said the surgeon quickly.  "Knees do not grow back."
There was a pause and then the robo-doc beeped.  "I concur," it said.  "The knee can be repaired.  Or fused in position.  This would be the easier option."
"Bad diagnosis," said the surgeon again.  "What would be the best outcome for the patient?"
"The patient is overweight," said the robo-doc.  "Studies show that granting fatties surgery usually results in morbid obesity.  Removal of the knee is once again indicated."
"Fatties?  Dr. Sprocket, where did you get the word 'fatties' from?"
The robo-doc was removing the patient's trousers as it answered, and Jules had started backing slowly away from the table and towards the operating theatre door.
"I have updated my vocabulary with dictionaries of slang in forty-seven languages," said the robo-doc.  "The patient is unconscious here, and I understood that doctor's have a 'black' sense of humour.  Is fatties somehow inappropriate?"
"Yes!  Dr. Sprocket, removal of the knee is still the wrong diagnosis.  The knee should be fixed."
"The knee is fit for purpose, Surgeon."
"The knee is fit for purpose.  It does not move the patient around, and this is its present task.  This patient is simply too tubby to support its own weight."  The robo-doc beeped several times in quick succession.  "A liposuction treatment may aid the patient."
"The patient has not consented to such surgery!"  The surgeon was sounding worried, and Jules had reached the doors now.  He leant back against them, one hand behind his back feeling for the door-handle.
"The patient does not appear to register highly enough on an intelligence scale to be worth obtaining consent from," said the robo-doc.  Its scalpel hand lifted high above it
"Nevertheles– oh crap, just turn the damn thing off."  The surgeon sounded frustrated, and Jules, finding the handle slipped through the door.
"Surgeon, Dr. Sprocket is refusing interface requests.  He'll need to be manually shut-down."
"What?  How?"
"Well, first we have to get close to a machine equipped with surgical instruments that make effective weapons and that can irradiate us with X-ray blasts."
The next sound was the cutting of a micro-saw through bone as the robo-doc began its amputation.

No comments: