Monday, March 28, 2011

Auto-appendectomy in the Antarctic

On November 5th, 1960 a Soviet Antarctic expedition team set sail to the ice shelf on the Princess Astrid Coast where they were tasked with constructing a new Antarctic polar base inland at Schirmacher Oasis. Nine weeks later, on February 18th 1961, the new base, called Novolazarevskaya, was completed just in time for the onset of the polar winter.

With the sea now frozen over, and months of sustained darkness, snow storms, and extremes frosts setting in, the team would have to remain on the base, isolated from the outside world, until the ship which brought them to the site was able to return the following year.Unfortunately for the team’s doctor, then 27 year old Leningrad surgeon Leonid Ivanovich Rogozov, it didn’t take long for things to take a turn for the worse.

By April, Just a few weeks into the their extended isolation on the base, Leonid had begun to fall ill, suffering symptoms of weakness, nausea, malaise, and later, a pain which began in the upper part of his abdomen before ultimately shifting down to it's lower right quadrant. The symptoms were unmistakable, and by April 29th Rogozov was certain of the diagnosis, writing in his journal:

“It seems that I have appendicitis. I am keeping quiet about it, even smiling. Why frighten my friends? Who could be of help? A polar explorer’s only encounter with medicine is likely to have been in a dentist’s chair.”

The surgeon knew that his only chance for survival was an operation, but transportation at this point was clearly impossible, and as the only doctor on the team, Rogozov new his only option was to perform the operation on himself. Preparations began the following day.

After having several members of the team help prepare a make-shift OR in his room, Leonid assigned each of his new assistants specific tasks and showed them how to administer artificial ventilation and injections with the drugs he had prepared in case he lost conscientiousness during the procedure. Once these preparations were complete, and the doctor had helped to properly sterilize his assistants, as well as his operating room, at 2am local time, Rogozov began to perform his own appendectomy.

Lying in a semi reclined position, Leonid began the operation, first injecting himself with the anesthetic procaine before making a 10-12 cm incision into his abdomen with the aid of a small mirror. Though he would turn to the mirror throughout the procedure to try and get a better look at what he was doing, Rogozov worked primarily by feel, using his ungloved hands to feel around inside of his abdomen in order to locate and remove the inflamed organ. Which he did, fighting through weakness and vertigo, and working mostly blind, in just an hour and forty-five minutes.

Leonid went on to make a full recovery in just two weeks, and returned home the following year, where he would live a full life up until his death from stomach cancer in September of 2000.


To read more excerpts from Leonid's Journal, as well as a more detailed description of the procedure itself, be sure to read the original article from the British Medical Journal’s (BMJ) website.

This story was also posted on: Compendium oF Strange.

1 comment: