Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How Far Would You Go?

How far would you go to improve your craftsmanship in your given field, and test the limits of what it's possible to accomplish? How many heretofore non work-related skills would you add to your repertoire just to push the boundaries? If you were a violinist, would you learn to scuba dive, and develop new water-friendly playing techniques, just so you could become the first violinist to play "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" under the sea? If you were a carpenter, would you train as a mountain-climber, and personally haul your tools and equipment up Mt. Everest, just so you could build the world's highest (vacant) birdhouse? If you were a surgeon, would you train in zero-gravity machines, and strap yourself to the walls of an airplane that looped like a roller coaster, creating near zero-gravity conditions in 22 second bursts, just so you could remove a cyst in almost weightless conditions?

They all sound a little on the wacky side to me, but one of these things actually happened. Can you guess which one? Yes, of course you're right, the one with the most details in the description is the real deal--the surgery. I'm sorry I couldn't make it more difficult to guess, but I had a hard enough time coming up with anything even remotely comparable in terms of preparatory challenge, foreign environment, new skills required, and seeming pointlessness.

Actually, pointlessness is the wrong word. It's obvious what the point is for developing surgical techniques for zero-gravity. We, the human race that is, want to head more people out into space over time--lots of people, in fact. Some of those people may require surgery. It probably won't be convenient to ship people back to earth every time they need to go under the knife, so clearly some new techniques are required. What I meant was that the cyst removal, a ten minute procedure, seems an insignificant task to warrant all that trouble and motion sickness. However, it would be foolish to attempt something more complicated, since this was the very first surgery on a human in weightless conditions. A cyst may be anti-climactic on one level, but I have to give them points for wisdom and restraint--and success--the cyst removal went off without a hitch.

Jamey Keaten, of The Associated Press, writes that a team of French doctors, performed the operation during a three hour flight on Wednesday, in an effort to determine the feasibility of surgery in space. The same medical team had already successfully operated on a rat under the similar conditions in 2003. According to Keaten, this is all part of a project backed by the European Space Agency. They're hoping to develop robots for future use in remote surgeries in space, or even on Earth, but Earth-guided. It's an ambitious goal--even more ambitious than playing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" underwater. Whatever the end result of the quest for surgical space robots, these surgeons have performed their task admirably. They can truthfully say they have risen to the heights in their profession, and gone where no surgeon has gone before. I wonder of they were tempted to quote the cantankerous Dr. McCoy, saying something like, "Blast it Jim, I'm a doctor, not a bungee jumper!" Probably not. They would say, "Blast it Jeem," for starters. Do the French even watch Star Trek?