Do-it-yourself guide to curing appendicitis: Antarctic edition


Antarctica can be a dangerous environment in which to work, on par with coal mining, logging, or fishing–and yes, fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. If you’re the only doctor, like Leonid Rogozov was while working at a Soviet base in 1961, then the dangers can be magnified greatly.

At only 27 years old, he was given the difficult task of keeping 11 other men healthy and safe while they wintered that year. All of that changed when he was paralyzed with a terrible case of appendicitis. Because he was the only doctor, he was forced to perform the usually routine operation on himself.

By the way, if you hadn’t realized: this isn’t actually a do-it-yourself guide to curing appendicitis. If you think you might have appendicitis, seek treatment immediately. Delaying treatment could result in a burst appendix, a variety of other infections, and before you know it you’re off to the next world. Seriously, go to the hospital!

Curing appendicitis when you’re the only doctor

curing appendicitisYou might ask yourself how the operation could possibly proceed, and the answer to that question might give you nightmares. It was like a scene out of a bad horror film–or that one episode of House M.D. when protagonist Greg House removes his own tumors while lying in the bathtub.

The surgical procedure took place with no general anesthesia. Two of the other men handed Rogozov the needed tools while he cut himself open. He found his way through the procedure by using a mirror held above his abdomen. In other words, he performed his own appendectomy with help from a backwards image.

He wrote:

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 completed the operation in less than two hours.

All of this happened during the Cold War, when the actions of both East and West were closely monitored. If Rogozov were to fail, even such a small event would have cast the Soviet Union in a negative light.

If having to cure his own appendicitis weren’t bad enough, there was a shock of cold, stormy seas and thick ice the next spring. And since a ship scheduled to finally retrieve the team couldn’t make it through, Rogozov and the others were forced to spend an extra year in the frigid cold of Antarctica!

Has 24’s Jack Bauer ever performed under such pressure?

Somehow, Rogozov survived. Let this be a lesson to employers everywhere: redundancy is good. When planning operations in remote locations, two doctors are better than one. Curing appendicitis on your own? Not such a great idea.

About Author

Jeff is a self-proclaimed pragmatic futurist; that is, he has high hopes for absurd life-altering technologies which sound too good to be true, and probably are. Although he writes on a variety of subjects, his real passion is for technological innovation and the people who make it happen. By day, he enjoys fuzzy bunnies, kittens, puppies, roller coasters and a sardonic written word or two. By night, he's busy running, replaying a random Final Fantasy game, or pretending to be Batman. He currently resides in Upstate NY.

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