In February 1961, Leonid Rogozov was one of 12 men wintering at a new Soviet base in Antarctica. He was also their only doctor. So when he came down with a bad case of appendicitis, well, there was only thing to do really: He had to remove the appendix himself.
Over at BBC Magazine, Sara Lentati chronicles the improbable auto-appendectomy, performed in the middle of nowhere. It was impossible to fly during the winter, and the journey by sea would have taken over a month. Rogozov was stuck at the base. He would die if the appendix burst, so he had to try something no one had ever done before.
Rogozov tasked two men on the expedition as surgical assistants who would hand him tools. There was no general anaesthesia. At first, Rogozov used a mirror, but the backwards image made things harder rather than easier, and he ended up working by touch. Here’s how it went, in Rogozov’s own words.
The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time… Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every four to five minutes I rest for 20 – 25 seconds.
Finally here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst… My heart seized up and noticeably slowed, my hands felt like rubber. Well, I thought, it’s going to end badly and all that was left was removing the appendix.
Rogozov’s gamble was successful and he survived to tell the whole tale, which you can read, along with all the grisly details, over at the BBC.
Pictures: Vladislav Rogozov/BMJ