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June 24, 2017

That Self-Appendectomy: The Story of Dr. Leonid Rogozov Who Cut Out His Appendix and Shared the Chilling Tale in 1961

So here are the facts: it happened during 6th Soviet Antarctic Expedition at Novolazarevskaya Station. The patient was the only physician on station, so the assistant was a mechanic. It was on April 30, 1961. The operation took 2 hours. He positioned himself so that he could see his own body using a mirror when doing the surgery - he made a 12 cm cut through which he found the appendix. After 5 days the doctor felt good, and after 7 days he removed the wires which had been used to sew up the body. His name: Leonid Rogozov. He published a short note about this in the Soviet Antarctic Expedition Information Bulletin, no. 37, pp. 42-44, 1962.

Antarctica, 1961: Dr. Leonid Rogozov has to remove his own appendix.

Russian surgeon, Leonid Rogozov, did something that had never been done in history when he performed an operation on himself during an expedition to the Antarctic.

He and a team of 12 had just finished building a new base when Leonid fell gravely ill. He diagnosed himself with acute appendicitis but being the only surgeon on the team, he had no help.

Leonid said when describing the ordeal in his diary, “I did not sleep at all last night. It hurts like the devil! A snow storm whipping through my soul, wailing like 100 jackals.”

After weighing all options and realising that there was no help, he knew he had to do something because his appendix was about to burst. He decided to perform an auto-appendectomy rather than die not doing anything.

Rogozov had intended to use a mirror to help him operate but he found its inverted view too much of a hindrance so he ended up working by touch, without gloves.

“Still no obvious symptoms that perforation is imminent," he wrote, "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.”

After working out a plan, he gave his colleagues specific tasks. He had two main assistants to hand him instruments and hold a mirror. He hoped to use his reflection to see what he was doing.

He also thought others how to inject him with adrenaline and perform artificial ventilation if he loses consciousness.

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

He applied local anaesthetic to his abdominal wall but after cutting through, the rest had to be done without pain relief so he could keep his head as clear as possible. He could not work well with the mirror because the view from that angle was confusing. He did the rest through touch and without gloves. When he reached the final part, he got weaker and was afraid he would fail.

Leonid Rogozov lying down talking to his friend Yuri Vereschagin at Novolazarevskaya.

“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.”

Fortunately, he succeeded. The whole operation took nearly two hours. Afterwards, he instructed his team on how to clean the surgical instrument then took some antibiotics and sleeping tablets.

Two weeks later, Leonid was healed and ready to return to work.

Leonid Rogozov in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) a few years after his return to Russia.

Leonid Rogozov’s son, Vladislav Rogozov believes that his father’s legacy is one of inspiration. He says, “If you find yourself in a seemingly desperate situation when all the odds are against you. Even if you are in the middle of the most hostile environment, do not give up. Believe in yourself and fight, fight for life.”

Leonid was awarded for his bravery but shunned publicity and simply faced his job as a surgeon. Quite an impressive feat.



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