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Russian surgeon stuck in Antarctica camp self-operated appendix to survive

ANI  |  Washington 

A Russian surgeon, stuck in a remote base camp during Antarctic mission was forced to operate to remove his own appendix.

In a diary entry written after his extraordinary feat, Leonid Rogozov described the sensation as "my heart seized up and noticeably slowed; my hands felt like rubber."

The ship Ob, with the 6th Soviet Antarctic expedition on board, sailed from Leningrad on 5 November 1960. Their task was to build a new Antarctic polar base inland at Schirmacher Oasis and overwinter there. After nine weeks, on 18 February 1961, the new base, called Novolazarevskaya, was opened. 27-year-old Leningrad surgeon Leonid Ivanovich Rogozov was part of the expedition.

They finished just in time. The polar winter was already descending, bringing months of darkness, snowstorms, and extreme frosts. The ship had sailed and would not be back for a year. Contact with the outside world was no longer possible. Through the long winter the 12 residents of Novolazarevskaya would have only themselves to rely on.

That was when team doctor Rogozov noticed symptoms of weakness, malaise, nausea, and, later, pain in the upper part of his abdomen, which shifted to the right lower quadrant. His body temperature rose to 37.5 C.1, and realized that he had to operate on himself in order to survive.

His teammates assisted him by filling room with ultraviolet light, providing sterilised the bed linen and instruments, and held a mirror to Rogozov's body and directed the lamp, but nearly fainted watching the process.

Once the appendix was out, the deathly pale doctor applied antibiotics in the cavity and closed the wound, before taking sleeping tablets. The surgery took just under two hours in total.

It was after two weeks from the surgery, when he had almost fully recovered on antibiotics, he penned a terrifying experience.

The team left Antarctica more than a year later, returning to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) on 29 May 1962, where Rogozov took a job at the First Leningrad Medical Institute. He never returned to Antarctica and died in 21 September 2000.

The feature is published in the British Medical Journal.

First Published: Fri, May 08 2015. 13:37 IST