His name was Leonid Ivanovich Rogozov and he was the only doctor at the Russian Antarctic base. Although he was only 27 years old at the time, he became seriously ill. He diagnosed that he had severe appendicitis and became the first man to operate on himself.
He made his own diagnosis
One morning, he began to feel unwell, weak, with a general tiredness and a stabbing abdominal pain. After ruling out issues such as food, his self-diagnosis was appendicitis in an advanced degree. He needed to make an urgent decision, the operation had to be performed as soon as possible.
It was at this point that he decided to operate on himself relying on the help of the medically inexperienced Soviet base personnel. An appendectomy is a normal operation in hospitals, but in Antarctica it is something else.
What was his task in Antarctica?
Rogozov’s group consisted of 12 people in the Soviet Antarctic campaign. Their mission was to build a base at the Schirmacher Oasis in East Antarctica. By mid-February 1961, the Soviet Novolazarevskaya base was ready. The journey to Antarctica by ship took 36 days. When construction was complete, they had to wait for the winter to pass before another ship could return them to Russia.
Thick ice sheets, blizzards and snowstorms made it impossible to reach them by air or sea. Outside help was impossible, so on April 29, 1961, Rogozov decided to have an operation if he wanted to survive.
He operated on himself for appendicitis
Although the decision was not easy for him, as a doctor he knew that his situation was life or death. He had to open his abdomen, take out his intestines and remove his own appendix which was about to burst. His only doubt was whether it was feasible.
In addition, politics was also a reason to consider. It was the time of the Cold War between East and West. For this reason, in order to be able to operate on himself, he had to have Moscow’s authorization. If the surgery went wrong and Rogozov died, the Soviet Antarctic program would suffer bad propaganda. Nevertheless, the doctor, after spending the whole night without sleep and in acute pain, decided to operate on himself.
Details of the surgery he performed on himself
He perfectly devised a plan to do it. He assigned each of his colleagues a specific task. From among them, he chose two who were to be his closest assistants. They were to have at hand the instruments, the lamp to illuminate the operation and most importantly, to hold the mirror. The Soviet mission director was on the alert in case any of the participants fainted.
He used local anesthesia, but only for the incision. He had to remove the appendix with his head clear, so he had to endure the pain while manipulating his own intestines. It took him two hours to do his own surgery and there were times when he didn’t think he would make it. But the surgery went well and it took him two months to resume his activities.
Finally due to weather conditions, the twelve people had to spend two years at the base. They were airlifted under extreme conditions. A few days after the man operated on himself, another Russian became the first man to reach space.