Appendicitis is a medical condition in which the appendix becomes inflamed, filled with pus, and causes a lot of pain down the right side of the abdomen. It is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, fever, and chills.
One Doctor Leonid Rogozov, in 1961, got an inflamed appendix and happened to be the only medical practitioner at an expedition in Antarctica. He was part of a team of twelve people who were on a mission of building a new base at the Schirmacher Oasis ( a 25 km long and up to 3 km wide ice-free plateau with more than 100 freshwater lakes. It is situated in the Schirmacher Hills in East Antarctica and is on average 100 meters above sea level. The Schirmacher Oasis ranks among the smallest Antarctic oases and is a typical polar desert.)
The journey from Russia to the Antarctic had taken them 36 days by ship and the ship was to come back after a year. Flying was impossible because of the extreme snow and winter storms. He wrapped his mind around the idea that he had to perform his own appendectomy.
In an interview with BBC world, his son Vladislav Rogozov said, “Being a surgeon, he had no difficulty in diagnosing acute appendicitis. It was a condition he’d operated on many times, and in the civilized world, it’s a routine operation. But unfortunately, he didn’t find himself in the civilized world – instead, he was in the middle of a polar wasteland. He was confronted with a very difficult situation of life and death. He could wait for no help, or make an attempt to operate on himself.”
Dr. Rogozov knew that his appendix would burst and that would lead to his untimely death at the age of only 27. He had to cut open his abdominal region, part his intestines, and cut out the inflamed appendix. Before he could begin the operation on himself, the commander in charge of the base had to get the blessings from the generals in Moscow, which were granted based on the situation.
I one of his diaries, Dr. Rogozov wrote: Still no obvious symptoms that perforation is imminent, 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.
He swung into action by selecting two of his colleagues to act as his assistants. The assistants were to hand him instruments, position the lamp and hold a mirror that would serve as a reflection to enable him to see his insides as he was operating.
“He was so systematic that he even instructed them what to do if he was losing consciousness – how to inject him with adrenalin and perform artificial ventilation,” says Vladislav, his son. “I don’t think his preparation could have been better.”
Dr. Rogozov administered himself with local anesthesia at the abdominal region and immediately cut himself through. He had resolved that he would only use anesthesia at the initial cutting of the abdomen (an incision of about 10-12 cm). The rest of the procedure would go on without any pain relief medication. His earlier idea of using a mirror for a reflection flopped because the inverted view became a hindrance and so he resorted to working by touch and without gloves.
It is at this point that we all should stand up and clap for Dr. Rogozov before playing Russia’s National Anthem.
In his diaries again, Dr. Rogozov wrote: 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.
During the operation, he almost lost consciousness about four times. After every four to five minutes, he had to rest for 20-25 seconds. He successfully maneuvered and cut out the appendix.
He wrote this 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… My heart seized up and noticeably slowed, my hands felt like rubber.
After two eternal hours, he had completed the operation down to the last stitch.
I am thinking he must have patted himself on the back with blood-stained hands and told himself, ‘I am proud of you Dr. Rogozov.’
He returned to his normal duties after just two weeks.
Dr. Leonid Rogozov was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour which honored great deeds and services to the Soviet state and society.
Looking back at his father’s legacy in the BBC interview, Vladislav Rogozov believes it is one of inspiration. “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.”
Dr. Rogozov died from lung cancer in the year 2000 at the age of 66 having served as the head of the surgery department of Saint Petersburg Research Institute for Tubercular Pulmonology.