This Russian Surgeon Removed His Own Appendix

Picture this: You're a 27-year-old on an Antarctic expedition to build a Soviet base in the early 1960s when you feel a stabbing, nausea-inducing pain on the right side of your midsection. It's a sure sign of acute appendicitis. The good news? You're a doctor. The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news? You're the only doctor at your station, and the ship that left you there won't return for a year.

The Little Appendix That Couldn't

This nightmare scenario was Russian surgeon Leonid Rogozov's reality while on the sixth Soviet Antarctic expedition to build a base at the Schirmacher Oasis. The new Novolazarevskaya Station was finished in February, but by April, Rogozov was in a life or death situation. He realized that the only person who could perform the surgery he desperately needed was himself. Vladislav, Rogozov's son, retold the story to the BBC: "He had to open his own abdomen to take his intestines out. He didn't know if it that was humanly possible." Even beyond the considerable personal costs, there were also political risks. The surgeon had to get approval from Moscow to attempt the surgery, since botching it would shed a negative light on the Soviet expedition during the Cold War. Not a great time to fail an auto-appendectomy, Rogozov.

How'd it go? Rogozov assigned different tasks to his colleagues. They handed him instruments, held up a mirror, and made sure no one else fainted. Vladislav notes that he was very systematic and prepared for all potential outcomes. Rogozov even administered his own local anesthetic and performed the entire two-hour surgery without losing consciousness. But, he finally found the source of his pain. As Rogozov reports in his diary, "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." But, it didn't — Rogozov's self-surgery was a success.

What a Man, What a Man

According to the BBC, Rogozov returned to Russia a hero and his unfortunate medical issue became fodder for Soviet propaganda. Rogozov was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour and was even compared to the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin. But what's the most impressive part of this story? He went back to work just two weeks later. Now that's dedication.

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Hear about another amazing Antarctic expedition in "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage" by Alfred Lansing. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Anna Todd January 31, 2017

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