Patient Blogs | Prostate Cancer
Robotic Prostatectomy - It Isn't As Scary As It Sounds
photo of micro surgery using robot

The surgeon who removed my prostate was a tall man with a friendly face and slightly graying hair. He had an easygoing manner and large hands with long, tapered fingers. “A surgeon’s hands,” I remember thinking.

He had been recommended to me by my urologist. He was experienced in robotic prostatectomy and had performed the procedure many times. He was adept at getting the cancer, all of it -- a clean sweep. I took an immediate liking to the man.

We discussed the looming surgery in general terms. He recognized a scientific moron when he saw one, so he kept things simple.

I removed all doubt by observing, “So, Robby the Robot will be doing the surgery,” an allusion to an old sci-fi movie with a comic robot adorned with spinning wheels and flashing lights.

“Not exactly Robby,” he said, immediately picking up on the reference. “But Asimov might approve.”

A doctor familiar with one of the masters of science fiction who practically invented our modern concepts of artificial intelligence? He now had me in the palm of his large surgeon’s hand.

Robotic surgery was the way to go, the surgeon assured me. “Less invasive, less blood loss, quicker recovery time. You’ll be back at work in 3 weeks.”

He would make four incisions, he said, three small ones -- little more than punctures, really -- and a larger one 2-3 inches long just above my navel. Instruments needed to move around the organs, separating the prostate from the bladder and the urethra, would be inserted, along with a camera to give him a 3D picture of my insides. His surgeon’s fingers would control things from a console, much like an old-time typesetter would manipulate the levers and keys of a Linotype machine.

At the appropriate time, he would snip off the cancerous prostate, slip it into a small bag, and remove it through the larger incision. That then would be super-glued shut (my term, not his). In order to remove the prostate, my urethra would have to be severed and reattached. So I would be catheterized and have a tube inserted directly into my bladder and attached to a discharge bag.

The catheter -- the part of the procedure I really dreaded - would be removed the day after surgery, the pee bag (my term, not his) 10 days later, once the urethra healed. An overnight stay in the hospital and then home.

I didn’t ask many questions, except to confirm I would be anesthetized when they inserted the catheter. I remember thinking, “I should be asking more questions. I should ask to see the damned robot machine. I should ask what could go wrong!”

I should have, but I didn’t. Misguided or not, I had confidence in my doctor and a strong premonition that things were going to be OK. Sound silly? Yeah, to me, too.

On the day of the surgery, my wife and I arrived at the hospital at 5 a.m. It already was bustling, but in that quiet, efficient way of hospitals early in the morning. We sat in a waiting area with another older couple. I could see by the way she held his hand that he, not she, was the prospective patient.

An hour and a half later, I was wheeled into the operating room, and sometime later emerged from a deep sleep to the smiling face of my wife. She patted my head and took a photo to post on Facebook. Still pumped full of drugs, I looked like the bleary survivor of a 3-day drunk.

I spent an uncomfortable night in the hospital, denied sleep by the inflatable chaps they attached to my legs after surgery to prevent thrombosis. About 3 a.m., an angel dressed as a nurse came in and asked if I wanted her to remove the catheter. “You have to ask?” I replied and prepared myself for an ordeal. But she had it out in an instant without a lick of pain. I almost sobbed in relief.

The next day, I went home, a tube in my abdomen and a pee bag hanging from my belt. Ten days later, as promised, the tube came out, and I was a free man again.

I experienced minimal pain and little discomfort. The pee bag was a nuisance, but manageable. Over the next 3 weeks, the super glue holding my incision together flaked off, leaving a raw, red, jagged scar.

I examined myself in the mirror. The smaller incisions already were fading, but the large one was still an ugly bugger -- and would be for a long time.

I gingerly poked it and remembered with deep satisfaction my last visit to the surgeon. The cancer had been completely confined to the prostate. No follow-up radiation would be needed. “You’re what we call a clinical cure,” he said.



Photo Credit: stockvisual / E+ via Getty Images

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Kerry Gunnels

Kerry Gunnels

Diagnosed since 2017

Kerry Gunnels spent almost 4 decades as a reporter and editor for Texas newspapers. In 2017, at the age of 65, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and later that year had his prostate removed. Now retired, he spends his time reading historical novels and writing Dragon Tales & Other Musings, a blog devoted to high school football, life, and other stuff.

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