|“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.”|
Self-surgery is one of the most hardcore things a human being can attempt. Throughout history there are several ultra-bonkers cases of hardcore, moderately-insane individuals going under their own knife-wielding hands – a couple years ago this woman in rural Mexico gave herself a c-section with a kitchen knife while using hard liquor as an anesthesia. In 1999, a woman named Jerri Nielsen biopsied her own breast cancer while ice-bound in Antarctica, with her only access to medical professionals being through videoconferencing equipment. This group of psychotic hippie nutjobs used to get blitzed on LSD in the 60s and drill holes in their heads with power tools as a path to spiritual enlightenment, and this Italian neurosurgeon once finished a brain operation while suffering from a heart attack – which isn’t exactly self-surgery, but still needs to be included among any list of hardcore surgical operations.
Despite all of these incredibly gonzo attempts at curing disease by taking a scalpel to your own abdomen, by far the most often-requested self-surgery incident I receive emails for is the super-intense case of Leonid Rogozov – the twenty-seven year old Soviet surgeon who, in 1961, removed his own appendix in the middle of an Antarctic hellhole surrounded by a bunch of guys whose only experience with medicine was when their physicians told them to turn their heads and cough. Since I generally like to do fan service any time it doesn’t compromise my own principles of badassitude, I will now attempt to humbly present the first documented case of a successful auto-operation of this caliber performed under these impossible working conditions.
Antarctica is fucking cold. I’m not sure if you know this or not, but it’s true. I wouldn’t bullshit you on this. Why the hell you would ever want to go there is something I may possibly never understand, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have a healthy respect for those psychopathic adventurers who get out there and explored the uncharted glacier-covered wastelands of nothingness – it takes serious nuts to get out there and survive in the world’s harshest climates with only penguins and bloodthirsty Orcas to keep you company, and that’s something that Leonid Rogozov had plenty of.
Rogozov was in the midst of a pretty promising career as a surgeon, and had just finished working on a dissertation aimed at designing a new method for operating on esophageal cancer, but a few weeks before he was supposed to get in front of the board and defend his dissertation he decided, “fuck it, I’m going to peace out of here, join the sixth Soviet Antarctic expedition, and drive giant tractors around in wind chills of negative one hundred and forty degrees Fahrenheit.” So he did. He ditched school, joined the South Pole expedition, and was one of just twelve men who departed Leningrad in 1960 to set up a polar base in the middle of fucking ass-nowhere. Doing triple-duty as the expedition’s doctor, assistant meteorologist, and heavy-vehicle operator, Rogozov spent thirty-six days at sea, withstood hella-bitter Antarctic temperatures so nut-bustingly cold that it would turn most guys’ dicks into those liquid nitrogen bananas scientists like to use to hammer nails into boards, and helped build the Russian base at Novolazraveskaya Station.
It’s tough to look like a badass when you’re chillin’ with penguins.
Here’s a satellite image of Novolazarevskaya Station. The astute cartographer will notice that there is absolutely goddamned nothing around this consonant-heavy installation except for glacial snow, freezing cold water, and unbearable soul-crushing misery. It’s a brutal climate designed by the gods to crush the life out of the weaker species of earth, and this dude was out there in the middle of nowhere just jumping snowmobiles through flaming hoops and stitching up workers who busted their arms falling off construction towers.
Well this was great fun and all, until the night of 29 April 1961, when Rogozov started barfing all over the place, ran a temperature, and started having searing pain coursing through his abdomen. Rogozov, being a surgeon, of course managed to diagnose himself with acute appendicitis. That was the easy part. The hard part was that intense winds, freezing temperatures, and the afore-mentioned misery of the Antarctic cold season prevented him having any hope of evacuation, and he was stuck in a recently-constructed work facility with no hospital equipment, no medical personnel, and an agonizingly-painful infected internal organ that was going to kill him if he didn’t get it removed in the next twenty-four hours.
While most people would have simply died slow, excruciating deaths like chumps, Leonid Rogozov decided that he was going to will himself to live. With all the odds stacked against him, this guy decided he was going to get in there and yank the damn thing out himself – no matter how ridiculous a prospect that may have been. Sure, appendectomies are some of the easiest surgical procedures you can perform, but it’s significantly less simple when you’re in a makeshift operating room, working blind and upside-down while running a fever and suffering from extreme nausea, and being assisted by a bunch of uneducated manual laborers. Rogozov didn’t give a shit. He ordered his men to get the medical room as sterile as possible, and then, assisted by a weatherman, a mechanic, and the base manager (who was there as back-up just in case either of the other two assistants got nauseous and passed out – never mind the fact that Rogozov was out there on his own), Rogozov laid down on the operating table, took his favorite scalpel, and sliced a five-inch incision across his own lower abdomen.
For the next hour and forty-five minutes, the super-sick, dying Leonid Rogozov operated on his own badly-infected appendix. Unable to see down into his own gaping wound, Rogozov had to work by feel alone, without gloves, and sometimes using just a mirror that was being held above him by one of his assistants (Rogozov later said that this was less helpful than you might think, because everything in the mirror is backwards and it was really screwing with him). Suffering badly from stress and illness and overall suckitude, Rogozov had to take breaks every five or ten minutes to vomit, collect his energy, or wait for the room to stop spinning, but this guy was so insanely badass that he just kept plowing through the procedure, doing whatever he needed to do to survive.
Now my first-hand experience with surgical procedures is minimal at best (you’d have a better chance of explaining to me how fuckin’ magnets work), so the closest thing I can equate this to would be tattooing yourself by writing in cursive, upside-down, with your eyes closed while dying of malaria. And if you spelled something wrong you died in a matter of seconds. So, like, no pressure or anything.
“I didn’t permit myself to think about anything other than the task at hand.
It was necessary to steel myself, steel myself firmly and grit my teeth.”
Somehow, despite every single possible factor stacked up against him, Rogozov yanked the misbehaving organ out of his exposed breadbox. Just before he passed out, he remembered specifically noticing that the appendix was so badly infected that it would have ruptured within the next couple of hours, putting him in a situation he certainly would not have survived.
Amazingly, two weeks after this crazy juryrigged operation Rogozov was back in action, working as the base doctor for the rest of the trip. Dude didn’t even get evacuated back home once the weather cleared up – he stayed in Antarctica for a full year, returned home with the rest of his team, finally defended his dissertation, received the Order of the Red Banner of Labor award from the Soviet government, and lived the rest of his life as a Professor of General Surgery in St. Petersburg. Insane.
|“When Rogozov had made the incision and was manipulating his own innards as he removed the appendix, his intestine gurgled, which was highly unpleasant for us; it made one want to turn away, flee, not look—but I kept my head and stayed. Artemev and Teplinsky also held their places, although it later turned out they had both gone quite dizzy and were close to fainting… Rogozov himself was calm and focused on his work, but sweat was running down his face and he frequently asked Teplinsky to wipe his forehead… The operation ended at 4 am local time. By the end, Rogozov was very pale and obviously tired, but he finished everything off.”|
Rubin, Jeff. Antarctica. Lonely Planet, 2005.
Wise, Jeff. Extreme Fear Macmillan, 2009.