I can’t sew. But on Nov. 30, I could thread two pieces of fabric together as the arms of a spider-like machine moved up and down next to me. Behind me, surgeons at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream joked that I should become a surgeon.
They knew, however, that without the help of “Rosie” — LIJ’s newest surgical DaVinci robot — I could not perform an operation.
“It’s difficult to teach residents to tie [a knot for a suture], but it’s easy for the robot,” said Gainosuke Sugiyama, LIJ’s chief of surgery.
Sugiyama has been training surgeons to use the DaVinci robot since 2013. He said that younger surgeons are more enthusiastic about robotic surgery, and learn how to use the machine faster than their older counterparts.
Before I had my chance at the helm of the roughly $2.4 million machine, Sugiyama demonstrated to Liliana Locnikar, a surgical tech at the hospital, how to use Rosie — named for the Jetson family’s robot maid in the 1960s cartoon television series.
Sugiyama showed Locnikar how to swap out and attach different surgical tools to the spindly arms of the machine, which hover over a patient during a procedure as the user sits nearby, operating Rosie through a remote terminal.
The pair then docked a camera tool into another one of the arms, changing the point of view for the surgeon and allowing Locnikar to see what Sugiyama was doing on a separate screen, as he operated the machine through the DaVinci Xi’s 3-D viewfinder.
Sugiyama said that set-up is easier than it was with previous DaVinci models. Some of his colleagues, he added, found it difficult to dock the tools in older versions, and that the placement of the camera tool was more limited. Additionally, the arms had to be placed eight to 10 centimeters apart, restricting its versatility during surgical procedures.
With the DaVinci Xi, however, the camera can be attached to any of the arms, and the arms can be closer together. “This is a smart system,” Sugiyama said. “So it knows what procedure [and] what position it needs to be in. So, it kind of ergonomically adjusts itself to where it needs to be.”
Once the setup was complete, Sugiyama and Locnikar sat down in front of the robot’s control terminal, and placed three fingers in its claw-like controller, using it to manipulate the machine’s arms to grab the suture tools and thread a fine pointed hook through two pieces of fabric.
“It was so exciting,” said Locnikar. “You could see everything so clear.”
The three-dimensional view Rosie provides surgeons allows them to perform precise cardiothoracic surgery, urology, obstetrics and gynecological surgery and hernia repairs. Sugiyama said that robotic surgeries are more “natural” than laparoscopic, or non-robotic, minimally invasive surgery, because a doctor can rotate his or her wrist using the robot.
“Laparoscopic is like operating with chopsticks,” Sugiyama said. “You don’t have the opportunity to move your wrist.”
He also said that robotic surgery offers less torquing, or stress, on the patient’s body, because of the precision of the machines, which means a less painful recovery.
“I’ve noticed the patient has less pain, even compared to laparoscopic surgery,” Sugiyama said. “I think this allows the general public to get more minimally invasive procedures than what it is now.”
“It allows us to respond to the needs of the community,” noted Denise Waslo, associate executive director of perioperative services at LIJ. “People are not going to have to go to the city, go to Manhattan — right here in our own community, we have state-of-the-art technology.”
Long Island Jewish Valley Stream obtained the DaVinci robot roughly a month ago through Northwell Health’s systemwide contract with Intuitive Surgical Inc., the corporation that manufactures the robots. Sugiyama expected to start using the robot on patients in January, when it will be installed in the hospital’s Operating Room No. 6.