My Life as a Cyborg
FEBRUARY 2014. SEEMS LIKE only yesterday. The older you get, the greater time is compacted. So it feels. When you are three-years-old, one year is a third of your entire life. Relatively, that’s a helluva long, long time from May to December. But when you join the ranks of the septuagenarians, one year is one seventieth of your life, a relative flash in the time stream.
So it’s like only yesterday I was opining in these pages how I yearned to become a cyborg. That is, have my various replaceable body parts that are rapidly wearing out exchanged for futuristic, enhanced artificial assemblies. My immediate concern was that arthritis was gaining ground, especially in my right knee, which was almost always slightly swollen and achy. There was also some concern about my vision, which has always been myopic, and a recent visit to the optometrist revealed that I had the beginnings of cataracts in both eyes. Additionally, we have my balance, a disability since the 1980s when I endured some brain damage from an accident. Fortunately, the rest of my brain is fine.
There are other infirmities of the aging process. Might be a good idea to reverse that, as well. Not likely to happen until nanotechnology is further developed. What with this country’s reluctance to embrace science, we might have to wait for the Japanese or Italians to get around to it.
About three months ago I had a chance at my first cybernetic upgrade. Toward the end of summer, my right knee ballooned with a bad arthritis attack. At first I could barely walk. My doctor thought it might be “gouty arthritis.” They took x-rays and aspirated the area, but could find no signs of gout. I was initially sent home with painkillers; the swelling, soreness, and pain only got worse. I needed to be taken to emergency, in a wheelchair.
They did emergency surgery. As it turned out, I had a serious staph infection of the knee. Apparently, because it was still quite warm outside and I spent a lot of time in the yard, wearing shorts, I’d cut or scraped my knee, allowing infection to occur.
The doctors used arthroscopic surgery to get into my knee, flush out all the goop with disinfectants and antibiotics. They didn’t replace the entire leg with a lithium-ion battery powered titanium prosthetic that could travel at 30 km per hour and kick a football into the next county. I don’t think those parts exist ... yet. Needless to say, I was disappointed. But I couldn’t complain. In fact, if you’re expecting another of my savagely cynical and satiric essays, you are going to be disappointed.
The injury was quite serious. In addition to a staph infection of the knee, I had some amount of staph infection of the blood and urine. There was a chance the staph could have spread into my heart valves, which would have been critical, but test results were negative, thankfully. The doctors were easily able to knock out the staph in the blood and urine. All that remained was a three-week stay in a rehab facility to kill the main knee infection.
(For those of you who may be unaware, this is why we missed the October issue. My apologies, but staph is not something to treat lightly. I did not and had to focus all my attention on getting better. I am back home now and sufficiently healed enough to resume my editing duties.)
Everybody from the doctors to the people who delivered my food at the rehab facility were impressively professional, friendly, and concerned about my health and welfare. I find it very difficult to become any bit curmudgeonly over something as serious as this episode was. There certainly was the very slim possibility that I could have died. That tends to diminish my wry humor. And the food was surprisingly good.
Also, you may have been wondering, Medicare is satisfactorily generous when it comes to paying the bulk of the medical bills. The part that I am responsible for isn’t all that expensive; with my particular state of health, I’m not sure the additional monthly premiums for “Medicare Plus” would be worth it. For example, had I known, I might have been able to shop around for a used wheelchair. As it was, I only needed one for a couple of months. My physical therapist weaned me off the contraption as soon as humanly possible. But I digress.
The fact remains that a golden opportunity to begin my inexorable conversion to cyborg-ness had slipped between my fingers, so to speak. I’ve been told by a number of friends and colleagues that in cases of arthritis such as mine, eventually the knee will have to be replaced. So there is still time ... Brother.
In the meanwhile, there is the matter of impending cataracts to consider. My father has had this done. The doctors just removed his no longer transparent lenses and replaced them with clear, artificial lenses called intraocular lenses (IOL). There are several kinds of IOLs. The one that I’m most interested in is the toric IOL. According to an article in “All About Vision,” by Vance Thompson, “Toric IOLs are premium intraocular lenses that correct astigmatism as well as nearsightedness or farsightedness.” I’ve had to wear corrective glasses since I was in the fourth grade. This particular IOL could free me from the scourge of viewing the world through dirty plastic, buying overpriced mechanisms every year or so that make marks on my nose and ears.
By the time I am ready for artificial lenses, I would want them to offer the following enhancements: telescopic vision, macro capability, access to the Internet via wifi, sight outside of the normal viewable spectrum, x-ray vision. Each of these features would be turned on and off by means of a blink response. This would be cyborg enough, I think.
By that time, too, I should be ready to have my knee replaced with equally muscular cyborg-inspired enhancements available with the new knee, or more practically an entire prosthetic leg: capability of lifting several times my own weight, or kicking in the side of a brick house, lightning-fast reaction times, quick-snap removal and attachment (I don’t think I would care to sleep wearing the thing).
What with a gleaming metal leg decorated with flames and pinstripes, eyes that could see in the dark and do broad spectrum analyses, I’d be well on my way to the cyborg lifestyle. Assuming we humans don’t do something foolish before then, like create a viral pandemic or start World War III. That would kind of suck.
Sam Bellotto Jr.