ST. HUBERT ISLAND – There is an old adage in surgical circles that “you can teach a monkey to operate; the true challenge is teaching him when.” This axiom was put to the test last week, as Tickles, a common Chimpanzee (P. troglodytes), scrubbed in to an operating room at the Governor John Bradstone Hospital on St. Hubert Island to perform the very first primate-assisted prostatectomy. The hospital’s chief urologic surgeon, present in the corner of the operating theater and directing the flow of the procedure through a sign-language interpeter, was first to praise the ape’s surgical prowess.
“Flawless. Absolutely flawless!” exclaimed Dr. Nicholas Joneston in a press conference that afternoon.
The operation, lasting just under 5 hours, was the first of its kind. Primate-assisted prostatectomy or “PAP” has been conceived as a new and revolutionary alternative to expensive high-maintenance robotic technology. Tickles became the first of his species to bring this dream to fruition.
Despite being the only procedure of its kind, the prostatectomy was completed without complication in an admirable 4 hours and 49 minutes, with only two minor anomalies occurring during the case. The operative report notes that Tickles neglected to observe the standard “Timeout” procedure before first incision and also that he later became incensed at a scrub nurse who handed him the wrong instrument during dissection of the prostatic pedicles and broke sterile field in order to hurl excrement at her.
Otherwise, his technique was without reproach and his results speak for themselves. His patient is expected to have a short post-operative recovery period and is proud to have had his prostate extirpated in such historic fashion.
“When they told me that my prostate might need to come out, I wasn’t too sure about it, but when they told me I might get to have a monkey do my procedure, I was like, ‘sign me up!’,” reported the patient, whose identity has not yet been formally released.
While maintenance costs for robotic surgery equipment can rise to nearly $500K dollars (US) per year, the costs of maintaining a primate program are significantly lower. “Tickles works for bananas…I mean he literally works for bananas. At 69 cents per pound, you’d be hard pressed to find such a bargain anywhere else in medicine,” raved Dr. Joneston. Under current animal labor laws, such a primate could perform up to 3 prostatectomies per day; at this rate, a primate program could quickly surpass the productivity of burgeoning robotic programs at many major medical centers.
Although many worry that this development will cause further confusion in men looking for clarity as they sort through the complicated array of treatment options for newly diagnosed prostate cancer, the Urology department at Bradstone sees fresh hope for men saddled with the disease.
Joneston summarized both the excitement and pride felt following their landmark achievement, saying, “The world will see that once Tickles gets his skilled simian creases around a cancerous prostate, a man’s life will never be the same.”
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