Dr. Leonid Rogozov operated on himself to remove his appendix in Antarctica, 1961

By Doug Williams
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Dr. Leonid Rogozov operated on himself to remove his appendix in Antarctica, 1961

Doug Williams
 
Rare Historical Photos
Rare Historical Photos
 
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If you think your seasonal cold gets the better of you, imagine performing surgery on yourself to take out a raging monster out of you to save your life. This is exactly what happened during an Arctic expedition when a Russian surgeon Leonid Rogozov realized that he had to perform surgery on himself as help was months away.

The symptoms of the disease started as a simple sense of weakness, and 27-year-old enthusiastic Rogozov did not think much of it in the beginning. However, as the time progressed, Rogozov felt excruciating pain developing on the lower right side of his abdomen. Being a surgeon Rogozov had no apparent difficulty to diagnose his illness as acute appendicitis; as for him at that time it was a routine procedure that he performed on countless patients in the civilized world. However, this time around it was an entirely different arena, where he was the patient in the middle of nowhere, and there was no other surgeon in sight to help him through his ordeal.

Leonid Rogozov was part of a 12-man expedition that was sent to Antarctic, and sixth of its kind to help build a Russian base in Antarctic in Schirmacher Oasis. The base named Novolazarevskaya Station had reached its final stages of completion in the February of 1961, however, the group was told to sit through the cold winter before making the return journey.

Rogozov’s condition was worsening by the day, and he could not wait all through the winter for the help to arrive. It had taken the team 36 days by sea to reach the base, and the ship was not scheduled to be back for another year. The quickest way out was flying which was out of the question due to heavy snow and blizzards; the situation for Rogozov was highly critical.

By the end of April, Rogozov had reached the threshold of patience for enduring anymore pain, and he had to make a crucial choice: to either die or operate on himself, both equally daunting and dangerous propositions.

In order of Rogozov’s self-appendectomy to go through he needed the approval of his commander who in turn needed Moscow’s blessing. At the height of cold war, the death of a surgeon on a newly built Russian base in Antarctic could result in a barrage of negative publicity for Moscow. After getting the nod from Moscow, Rogozov decided to go ahead with the surgery and made a comprehensive plan that he laid out in great details in his personal journal.

After assigning his assistants some special duties regarding surgery, Rogozov started gathering courage for the amazing feat he was about to carry out. He was very meticulous in his preparation and highly systematic in his instructions. Rogozov had told one of his colleagues to pass him instruments while the other colleague had to keep a mirror near his abdomen for Rogozov to see the procedure. Another man was asked to stay ready with a shot of adrenaline in case Rogozov fainted during the operation.

According to Rogozov when he took the local anaesthetic novocaine he instantly switched to the operation mode and all his nervousness simply vanished; however, the inverted image in the mirror caused a lot of confusion while he was trying to find his intestine for removal. After removing the appendix Rogozov wrote in his journal, he realized that even a few hours delay in the operation could have resulted in painful and instant death for him.

 

 
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