Oct
08
2008

Where I come from, the future, we have replaceable arms.

A bin of spares: for future-babies.
A bin of spares: for future-babies.Courtesy Max Sparber
In many respects, the people of my country—we call it “Futureland” or “Futureworld,” depending on the state—are much like Lego men (minifigs). We have round, cheerful faces, chunky, clunky legs, and square, tapering shoulders. And the women… oh, the women of Futureland are the most beautiful in the world, with their round, cheerful faces, chunky, clunky legs, and square, tapering shoulders. Some might argue that they’re only distinguishable from us men by painted on lipstick and eyelashes… but I don’t see why that has to be a bad thing.

And, like Lego people, our arms are removable and replaceable. We can mix and match! Unfortunately, the process of arm removal is often extremely painful and bloody, and arm replacement involves extensive surgery, an anti-rejection drug regimen, and years of physical therapy. Still… replaceable arms! Yes, life in the future is fine indeed.

Oh? You don’t believe me? Well, put on your chronohats and futurnaut undies and join me up here for a moment, so that we might consider the case of one Karl Merk.

Karl was a German dairy farmer until six years ago, when he elected to have his arms removed. Although… Maybe “elected” isn’t totally accurate. Mr. Merk’s arms were detached just below the shoulders by a combine harvester, and he was screaming “Kill me, kill me!” when he was later discovered by a colleague. So it seems possible that the arm-removal could have been an accident.

Regardless, it wasn’t until just recently that a suitable set of new arms could be found to click back into Karl’s shoulders.

It took a team of 40 surgeons, specialists, and support staff 15 hours to reattach the arms of a donor who had died only hours earlier. The arms were filled with “a cooled preservation solution,” and then detached from the donor’s shoulders at the exact point Mr. Merk’s arms were severed. Merk’s arm stumps were then cut open to expose the bone, muscle, nerve tissue, and blood vessels.

The bones were joined first, followed quickly by arteries and veins, to ensure blood flow. Muscles and tendons were then attached, followed by the nerves, and then the skin was finally sewn together.

Click. Click.

I recommend checking out the video in the page linked to above (under “the case of one Karl Merk”). It has a video of Karl with his new arms. The arms are paler than the rest of Karl, and they look kind of muscley. They’re also kind of wet and shiny looking, which is gross. But they work, and over the next couple years Karl should be able to regain full use of the hands and everything. Because so much of his arms were cut off in the accident, there’s a greater risk that Karl’s body won’t accept the new limbs, but so far there doesn’t signs of rejection.

And that’s life in the future. Tons of painful surgery. And maybe some slightly disproportionally large arms.

Buzz has plenty on organ transplants and the like. Check in out here.

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