Leonid Rogozov was a soviet general practitioner who took part in the sixth soviet Antarctic expedition in 1960 – 1961. And in 1961 may 01 is a historical day in medical history that the world first self-surgery take place at some place in the Antarctica surrounded by huge snowstorms.
“I did not sleep at all last night. It hurts like a devil. A snowstorm whipping through my soul, wailing like a hundred jackals. 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”
In 1961 Leonid Rogozov and other 12 men were stationed at Russian base in Antarctica and they were stuck in the base with polar winter and no contact with outside world. On 29th April 1961 Leonid got fever with nausea and pain in the lower right of the abdomen and he knew the symptoms, an acute appendicitis. With the symptoms and the pain he knew that he need to undergo an operation to cut it off but he was the only doctor in that camp. There was no way out from the Antarctica as the snowstorms hitting them badly.
Leonid wrote in his diary:
“It seems that I have appendicitis. I am keeping quiet about it, even smiling. Why I am 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.”
However he took all the treatments like antibiotics to reduce pain and keep him upright until they can go back. But eventually his condition getting much worse and his body temperature rose and vomiting became more frequent.
By the days passed he had no choice but to undergo a surgery. So he decided to perform the surgery by himself. He asked help from a driver and meteorologist who were his friends to help in this surgery.
One of them were holding a mirror to observe areas that are not directly visible while other provides tools to his surgery. However time passed by and Leonid feels weaker and weaker and take rest for few seconds for every 4-5 minutes. Finally he removed the affected appendix and applied antibiotics in the wound. This successful operation lasted for 45 minutes and with the help of his friends he recovered back to normal in few days.
He wrote in his diary:
“I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders-after all, it is showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch. The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time. I try to work surely. Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. Suddenly it flashed through my mind. There are more injuries here and I didn’t notice them. I grow weaker, my head starts to spin.
Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. 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 and at the worst moment of removing the appendix I flagged. My heart seized up and noticeably slowed; my hands felt like rubber. Well, I thought, it’s going to end badly, and all that was left was removing the appendix. And then I realized that, basically, I was already saved.”
He became normal after few days and stitches were removed by a week and came back for his regular duties within two weeks. His surgery goes viral and in 1961 he was awarded Order of the Red Banner of Labour.
Leonid’s self-operation remains an example of determination and the human will for life.
In October 1962 he came back to Leningrad and started working on an MD. In September 1966 he defended an MD thesis on “Resection of the esophagus for treating esophageal cancer.” He also worked at several hospitals in Saint Petersburg from 1986 to 2000 and he died in 2000 at age 66 in Saint Petersburg from lung cancer. He was the head of the surgery department of Saint Petersburg Research Institute for Tubercular Pulmonology.