The Sockdolager

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The Neck Fantasy

For two years now my waking hours have been marked by persistent neck and shoulder pain. At its worst it was incapacitating and it made basic daily functioning nearly impossible; most days it is merely annoying, representing an annoying but surmountable increase in the volume of the mental static I must overcome in order to accomplish a task.

This is my recurrent fantasy:

I am alone, lying face down on a massage table in an operating room. Above me is the machine. The machine is comprised of multiple smoothly mechanical limbs, each equipped with a variety of what in the robotics industry are called “end effectors.”

The machine’s limbs descend toward my prone body and begin their work. One limb deploys a wire only a few atoms in thickness as it traces cuts into the skin around my right shoulder blade and neck. Another limb adheres its end effector to my skin with an adhesive patch and tenderly peels it up and out, exposing the living tissue beneath.

The machine’s cuts are so fine and so minutely precise that I do not need any anesthetic, and so rather than pain I feel only a cool nakedness as crisply sterilized air flows cooly over the exposed flesh of my shoulder muscles for the first time.

The machine proceeds to disassemble my shoulder. It cuts muscles completely free from the tendons that tether them to joints, separating the striated tissue from fascia and laying the pieces aside. As the removed muscles are treated to in vitro massages by purpose-made end effectors, heavier-duty (but no less precise) tools descend to work on my bones.

The problem is being caused by collapsed discs between two cervical vertebrae, which now find themselves secured with collars the machine places around them. Applying gentle pressure to these collars, the machine carefully reopens a gap of the proper distance between the problematic vertebrae. The herniated disc material is carved away and replaced with a translucent white gel that will last longer than any other part of me.

And then to the faint and busily musical whir of servomotors, I am reassembled—the fine lacing of my nerves are relaid, the sashimi cuts of removed muscle set back in place and glued to their companion tendons, fascia re-adhered (or perhaps replaced by a superior synthetic alternative). The opened flaps of my skin are closed and resealed to leave only the finest hairline of a scar, whose straightness and regularity are conceptually incompatible with the notion of “wound.”

I return home. My wife asks me how the procedure went, and I tell her: just fine.