Of course, this was no ordinary surgery. Instead of scalpels and forceps, I was using Da Vinci, an advanced surgical robot. Traditional operations entail an 8- to 10-inch incision, but Da Vinci's two robotic arms work through pencil-size holes between the patient's ribs. A tiny camera enters through a third hole, giving surgeons a 360-degree view from their video console a few feet away. The robotic appendages, each with pincer-like digits, bend and twist as the surgeon moves the fingertip controls. With no gaping chest wound, Columbia doctors-who've done 37 robot-assisted heart operations so far-hope Da Vinci will eventually cut recovery time from 12 weeks to 24 hours.