The Unbelievable Story Behind The Doctor Who Surgically Removed His Own Appendix

In 1961, Leonid Rogozov was among the 12 men who worked on Novolazarevskaya Station, the Russian base in Antarctica, one of the most remote places on Earth. In March, the group lost contact with the outside world due to the polar winter, and Rogozov started to feel ill. The man had the classic symptoms of acute appendicitis and had to undergo surgery to survive. There was only one problem: Rogozov was the only doctor on the staff.

According to The British Medical Journal, "he was in the frontier conditions of a newly founded Antarctic colony on the brink of the polar night. Transportation was impossible. Flying was out of the question because of the snowstorms."

The pain was increasing, and Dr. Rogozov was aware he was running out of time. "I did not sleep at all last night. It hurts like the 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," he wrote in his journal, according to BBC.

Dr. Rogozov planned every detail

Dr. Rogozov, who was 27 years old in 1961, planned every detail of his operation. According to BBC, he nominated two people to hand him the instruments, position the lamp in the right place, and hold a mirror so he could see what he was doing. A third man was available in case his assistants fainted. Dr. Rogozov also instructed his assistants what to do in case he lost consciousness.

The doctor used a local anesthetic and worked for one hour and 45 minutes. "I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders — after all, it's showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch," he wrote in his journal, according to The Atlantic.

Dr. Rogozov also wrote that the bleeding was heavy, but he was not in a rush. His head started to spin, and he had to rest for 20-25 seconds every five minutes. "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. Well, I thought, it's going to end badly and all that was left was removing the appendix" (via BBC).

The surgery was a success, and the doctor went back two work two weeks later. Dr. Rogozov died from lung cancer in 2000.

Leonid Rogozov wasn't the first doctor to do it

In 1921, general anesthesia was considered too dangerous for patients with heart conditions, and they could not undergo basic surgeries. Dr. Evan O'Neill Kane, chief of surgery at Summit Hospital in Kane, Pennsylvania, believed the surgeries could happen with a local anesthetic. When Dr. Kane developed chronic appendicitis, he decided it was the perfect moment to test his theory, and he wanted to perform the surgery (via Mental Floss).

The doctor had performed over 4,000 appendectomies over the course of his nearly 40-year career, but he would enter the medical history for only one. According to The Washington Post, a nurse held his head while he cut into his own abdomen and removed his appendix. After that, he allowed his assistants to close the wound. Kane was released from the hospital on February 16, 1921, one day after the surgery.

Previously, Kane had removed his own infected finger in a self-surgery. In 1932, the doctor performed his third self-surgery, when he repaired his inguinal hernia. Kane died from pneumonia the same year, at age 71 (via The New York Times).