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A Medical Emergency!

Antarctica, where one can only find snow all around him… and, he was the only physician in that land of snow. So, he had no other option, but to treat himself when he fell ill. It was not just medical treatment… Russian Surgeon Leonid Ivanovich Rogozov (March 14, 1934 – September 21, 2000) had to perform an appendectomy on himself in a case of self-surgery!
Dr Rogozov was born on March 14, 1934 in Chita Oblast, a remote village in Eastern Siberia, just 17km from the Soviet border with Mongolia and China, near Manzhouli. He lost his father Ivan Rogozov at an early age, as the WWII claimed his life in 1943…
After graduating in 1959 as a General Practitioner from the Leningrad Paediatric Medical Institute, he underwent clinical training to specialise in Surgery. In September 1960, Dr Rogozov, at the age of 26, interrupted his training, and joined the sixth Soviet Antarctic Expedition as a doctor…

Dr Rogozov.jpg
Dr Rogozov

The young doctor, along with 13 scientists, spent three years (1960-62) in Antarctica. They used to stay at the Novolazarevskaya Station that was set up in January 1961. All of a sudden, Dr Rogozov fell ill in April 1961, as he experienced general weakness, nausea, and moderate fever, and later, pain in lower right portion of his abdomen. He tried his best to treat himself. However, the attempt failed and signs of localised peritonitis became apparent by April 30. As his condition worsened considerably by the evening, Dr Rogozov realised that he would have his appendix removed. Mirny, the nearest Soviet Research Station, was more than 1,600km from Novolazarevskaya. Antarctic research stations of other countries did not have an aircraft, and severe blizzard conditions prevented aircraft landing in Novolazarevskaya. After considering the scenario, Dr Rogozov decided to perform the operation on himself!


It was decided that the surgery would take place at 2pm (local time) on May 1, 1961. As per the plan, a makeshift operation theatre was set up at the research centre. A driver and a meteorologist agreed to help Dr Rogozov by providing instruments during the operation. The driver held a mirror in order to enable the doctor observe areas not directly visible, as he was in a semi-reclining position, half-turned to his left side…


Dr Rogozov, at first, used a solution of 0.5% novocaine for local anaesthesia of the abdominal wall. Then, he made a 10-12cm incision of the abdominal wall. However, he accidentally injured the cecum while opening the peritoneum. So, he had to suture it first, and then he proceeded to expose the appendix. After removing the appendix that could have burst within a day, he applied antibiotics directly into the peritoneal cavity. As he felt general weakness and experienced nausea about 30-40 minutes after the start of the operation, he had to make short pauses for rest. Finally, the operation was over at 4pm. Dr Rogozov removed the stitches seven days after the operation and resumed his regular duties in about two weeks!


The self-surgery attracted the attention of the Soviet people at the time. The erstwhile Soviet Union not only honoured Dr Rogozov with the ‘Order of the Red Banner of Labour’ later in 1961, but also made some changes in its policy, making extensive health checks mandatory for personnel deployed on such expeditions.


Upon his arrival in Leningrad (in 1961), Dr Rogozov joined the Paediatric Medical Institute as MD! Later, he worked in various hospitals in Leningrad, before serving as the Head of the Department of Surgery in St Petersburg Research Institute for Tubercular Pulmonology (from 1986 to 2000). He passed away from lung cancer on September 21, 2000 at the age of 66, in St Petersburg.

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