We have heard of people taking care of their medical needs before. Some have stitched themselves, and others have removed a bullet or other such object. Some have even performed surgery on themselves, although that sound a little bit like insanity to me. Nevertheless, if it comes down to perform surgery on yourself or die, I guess the logical choice would be to perform the surgery on yourself, if you had any idea what you were doing. A medic, Robert Kerr “Jock” McLaren, who was a veterinarian by trade, took out his own appendix during his service with the Second Australian Imperial Force, in order to save his own life. So, McLaren set about to remove his own appendix…in the jungle, with a pen knife, two spoons, and coconut fibers. That was an amazing thing, but it happened in 1944 and he even had no anesthetic. It is shocking, but he would not be the last one to do that.

As research groups began spending time in Antartica, several have found that they have suddenly needed medical care and there was no one there to do it, but them. One female doctor had to perform a biopsy on herself, which while it was a serious situation, was not a procedure to the degree of an appendectomy. Then on April 30, 1961, Dr. Leonid Rogozov, who was a Soviet surgeon, found himself stranded in Antarctica, and in need of an appendectomy. Dr Rogozov was a Soviet general practitioner. He took part in the sixth Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1960–1961, and unfortunately for him, he was the only doctor stationed at the Novolazarevskaya Station at that time. While he was there, he developed appendicitis. It was not something that could wait, as it was a serious attack, so he had to perform the appendectomy on himself.

The station was newly constructed, and the 12 men inside were cut off from the outside world by the polar winter by March of that year. When the polar winter sets in, planes and ships cannot get into the area, for any reason. The symptoms began on the morning of 29 April 1961. At first they were mild, with Rogozov experiencing general weakness, nausea, and moderate fever, but later pain in the lower right portion of the abdomen started to become more severe. His symptoms were classic, and he knew that he had acute appendicitis. The British Medical Journal reported, “He knew that if he was to survive, he had to undergo an operation, but 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. And there was one further problem: he was the only physician on the base.” Self surgery was his only solution.

Being a logical man, Rogozov wrote in his diary, “It seems that I have appendicitis. I am keeping quiet about it, even smiling. Why 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.”

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