Tuesday 12 November 2019

The man who cut out his own appendix on isolated Antarctica trip

Antarctica stock image
Antarctica stock image
Independent.ie Newsdesk

A Russian surgeon cut open his own abdomen and took out his appendix after falling ill in the Antarctic more than 50 years ago.

Surgeon Leonid Rogozov was part of the sixth Soviet Antarctic expedition, a team sent to the Antarctic wasteland to build a new base.

The Novolazarevskaya Station was up and running by the middle of February 1961 and the group set up camp to see out the winter months.

But Rogozov (aged 27 at the time) soon fell seriously ill and a strong pain developed down the side of his abdomen.

He soon realised, as the only doctor on the expedition, he would have to operate on himself.

"Being a surgeon, he had no difficulty in diagnosing acute appendicitis," his son, Vladislav told BBC World. 

"It was a condition he'd operated on many times, and in the civilised world it's a routine operation. But unfortunately he didn't find himself in the civilised world - instead he was in the middle of a polar wasteland.

"He was confronted with a very difficult situation of life and death," he continued.

"He could wait for no help, or make an attempt to operate on himself"

Vladislav said his father's symptoms became increasingly worse as he considered his options.

"He had to open his own abdomen to take his intestines out," Vladislav said.

"He didn't know if that was humanly possible."

But Rogozov soon made the decision he would perform an auto-appendectomy rather than die not having tried anything.

In his diary, he wrote:

"It seems that I have appendicitis. I am keeping quiet about it, even smiling. Why frighten my friends?.

"I did not sleep at all last night. It hurts like the devil! A snow storm whipping through my soul, wailing like 100 jackals.

"Still no obvious symptoms that perforation is imminent, but an oppressive feeling of foreboding hangs over me… This is it… I have to think through the only possible way out - to operate on myself… It's almost impossible… but I can't just fold my arms and give up."

Rogozov organised his amateur medical team, including an engineer and the station’s meteorologist, and planned who would hold lamps, the mirror and the instruments.

"My poor assistants! At the last minute I looked over at them. They stood there in their surgical whites, whiter than white themselves," he wrote afterwards.

"I was scared too. But when I picked up the needle with the novocaine and gave myself the first injection, somehow I automatically switched into operating mode, and from that point on I didn't notice anything else."

Two hours later, with 25 second breaks every four-five minutes, the operation was complete.

Rogozov only took his antibiotics and rested after he instructed his staff how to wash all the surgical instruments.

He returned to work just two weeks later.

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