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Leonid Rogozov and his Self-Appendectomy

Did you know it is mandatory to have an appendectomy before undertaking a mission in Antarctica?

In 1961, a Russian expedition of 12 people was sent to Antarctica, Leonid Rogozov was the team’s doctor.During the mission Rogozov started to experience pain on the right side of his abdomen, all signs and symptoms pointed to appendicitis. Worry ran high as Rogozov’s life was in danger. It took 36 days for the team to reach Antarctica from Russia and their ship wasn’t due to return for another few months due to the extreme winter conditions.

It was a matter of life or death. Rogozov was the only person on the team with medical training so there was no one else to remove his appendix for him and if he did die from a burst appendix the rest of the team were in peril if something were to go wrong.

Rogozov had to operate on himself if he wanted a chance to survive. He planned, and he got other members of the team to act as assistants, handing him the needed instruments and holding a light and much-needed mirror for this self-operation. He was very well prepared for this grave situation. Typically, an appendectomy is performed using general anaesthesia but, in this case, local anaesthetic had to suffice as Rogozov needed to remain conscious. Anaesthesia could only be used on the abdominal wall, once he had reached the appendix, he had to do this without pain relief to keep a clear and level head. Rogozov intended to use a mirror to help him operate but found it obscured his view too much. He operated without gloves to get a better feel of his operating field. Rogozov was very lucky to have been operated on when he did as the appendix had darkened and swelled, meaning if he put off the operation for just another day it would have burst, sending him to his death.

After 2 hours, Rogozov had completed the operation. Following a course of antibiotics, Rogozov was back to work just two weeks later.

Appendectomies are now compulsory for Antarctic explorers due to what Rogozov went through. He was a magnificent surgeon at just 27 years old and his experience resulted in a change of policy requiring people to have extensive health checks before undertaking such expeditions. He went on to work as head of surgery in St Petersburg until he died in 2000.


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