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Publication: Historical History.
Posted by
760a631d0dea2ae92cb6e9f7b157b927
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The Man Who Cut Out His Own Appendix

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Where:
Antarctica
When:
1961
Summary:
During an expedition to the Antarctic, Leonid Rogozov realized he was suffering from appendicitis. As the only doctor on the team, he was forced to operate on himself to remove the organ, which was about to burst.

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The Man Who Cut Out His Own Appendix



  Where:
Antarctica

  When:
1961

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The appendix is one of those organs that our bodies have, but don’t really need. It’s what is known as a vestigial organ, meaning that its function has been lost over the span of evolution, so it gets in the way more than anything. The appendix can become inflamed and cause severe pain, which is what’s known as appendicitis.Advertisements:


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When this happens, you’re likely to go to the hospital for a routine surgery called an appendectomy. Very few people end up having problems with their appendectomy, with a mortality rate of under two percent, and typically a speedy recovery. The appendectomy itself routinely consists of antibiotics followed by an anaesthesia, then the appendix is removed by a surgeon and the wound is stitched shut.

For a surgeon, it’s something that you probably wouldn’t have any problem in doing multiple times per day as it’s a minimally invasive surgery that you’ll learn how to do first. However, you probably wouldn’t want to perform this surgery on yourself. Sometimes, though, desperate times call for desperate measures, and that’s exactly what happened for Leonid Rogozov.

Rogozov was born in March 1934 in the Soviet Union, spending all of his youth there and graduating from the Leningrad Pediatric Medical Institute. In 1959, Rogozov set out to be a surgeon, but put those dreams on hold so that he could join the Soviet Antarctic Expedition to be the team’s doctor.

As the only doctor there, the expedition was really hoping that nothing bad would happen to him, and things had gone well for the first six months. Things would take a turn on the morning of April 29, 1961, however, as Rogozov started to experience abdominal pain and many of the other signs of appendicitis.

Rogozov had hoped appendicitis wouldn’t be the case, and he tried to treat himself through a variety of measures. By the next day, none of them had worked and the pain in his abdomen only started to get worse. More than 1,000 miles away from the nearest research station that could operate on him and a blizzard preventing any aircraft from coming in or out, Rogozov had to take matters into his own hands.

Early in the hours of May 1, Rogozov had a couple of men on the expedition team assist him in performing surgery on himself, holding up mirrors, providing light and handing him the tools that he would need to remove his own appendix. Rogozov looked completely relaxed when performing the surgery, in a position where it looked like he was leaning back rather than undergoing surgery. He used a small amount of novocaine to ease the pain at the incision site, which was about four inches in length.

The self-surgery wasn’t without its problems, however, as Rogozov had accidentally made an incision in a part of his large intestine that had to be sutured shut. Once that problem was taken care of, Rogozov located his appendix and took his time in removing the inflamed organ. It would have been quicker had Rogozov not been experiencing the painful symptoms of appendicitis, but he was able to get the job done.

Upon removing his appendix, Rogozov discovered that he got to the problem just in time. Had he not performed surgery on himself, the appendix was likely to have ruptured within the next 24 hours, which would have made matters much more complicated. Rogozov would be on bed rest for the next five days while he recovered, and he showed quick signs of improvement. Back on his feet in less than a week, Rogozov was able to return to serving as the expedition’s doctor within just two weeks.

News of Rogozov’s brave self-surgery had made the news in the Soviet Union, which allowed him to be awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. More than a year later, Rogozov returned to the Soviet Union, heading back to the Leningrad Pediatric Medical Institute, earning his MD at the school. Upon graduating in 1966, Rogozov spent the rest of his years working as a doctor, including being the lead surgeon at the Saint Petersburg Research Institute of Tubercular Pulmonology before passing away at the age of 66 in 2000 due to lung cancer.

All these years later, though, people are still impressed by the fact that Rogozov was able to perform an appendectomy on himself. His son, Vladislav, said that “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.”

Vladislav added that his father knew he was in a life or death situation, and didn’t know if self-surgery was even possibly for a procedure that usually involves anesthesia. In his diary during the expedition, Rogozov wrote that “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.”

Somehow, when Rogozov got into a groove, things were much easier for him. “I was scared…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.”

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