The "Star Wars" era of medicine has arrived at Mountain View Hospital with addition of a laser surgery center.

Doctors there are using spaghetti-thin lasers to treat eyes, throats, gynecological problems and to remove diseased gall bladders.In most cases, laser surgery is less invasive than traditional surgery. Cuts are smaller, there is less swelling, pain and scarring, and patients are able to return to normal activities sooner.

"Most people are out of the hospital the next or the same day," said Dr. J. Jay Oldroyd, general surgeon.

Recovery is reduced from four to six weeks to an average of three to five days, Oldroyd said.

Because less time is spent in the hospital, laser surgery is also less expensive.

The most commonly used lasers produce a powerful electric current that is passed through a tube containing a gas, which amplifies the current. As increased energy is produced, the laser emits a narrow, uniform light beam that can be used to coagulate blood, vaporize fluid, cut tissue or make micro-explosions on a surface.Oldroyd, who uses a laser in laparoscopic gall bladder removal surgery, describes the uniform beam of light from a laser as a dance floor filled with uniformed, marching Marines who are all performing the same step in the same direction and at the same time.

As many as 600,000 diseased gall bladders are removed annually in the United States. The gall bladder, about the size and shape of a small pear, stores bile made by the liver. Bile emulsifies fat so it can be digested.

Gall bladder problems typically occur in people between the ages of 45 and 60.

"In medical school we used to say people who get gall bladder disease are fair, fat, female, forty and fertile," Oldroyd said.

However, an increasing number of younger people are developing the disease, he said.

To remove a diseased gall bladder, Oldroyd, with assistance from a gynecologist versed in laparoscopy, makes four quarter-inch incisions in a patient's abdomen through which laparoscopic instruments are placed. A camera is attached to one of the instruments. Oldroyd operates on the gall bladder while watching his movements on a television monitor.

Oldroyd uses the laser to sever blood vessels attached to the organ and then removes it through one of the small incisions.

One 50-year-old woman Oldroyd operated on went home the same day as her surgery and was out shopping the next day.

Laser surgery is not for everyone, however. Individuals with adhesions, inflammatory bowel disease or a history of stomach problems such as ulcers are not candidates for the procedure.