Feature Christmas 2009

Auto-appendectomy in the Antarctic: case report

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b4965 (Published 15 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4965
  1. Vladislav Rogozov, consultant anaesthetist12,
  2. Neil Bermel, professor of Russian and Slavonic studies3
  1. 1Department of Anaesthetics, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Sheffield S10 2JF
  2. 2Department of Anaesthesiology and Resuscitation, Cardiac Centre, Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Prague, 140 21, Czech Republic
  3. 3Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S37RA
  1. Correspondence to: V Rogozov v.rogozov{at}sheffield.ac.uk

    The Russian surgeon Leonid Rogozov’s self operation, undertaken without any other medical professional around, was a testament to determination and the will to life

    “A job like any other, a life like any other”

    —Leonid Rogozov

    The ship Ob, with the sixth Soviet Antarctic expedition on board, sailed from Leningrad on 5 November 1960. After 36 days at sea she decanted part of the expedition onto the ice shelf on the Princess Astrid Coast. 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.

    They finished just in time. The polar winter was already descending, bringing months of darkness, snowstorms, and extreme frosts. The sea had frozen over. 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.

    One of the expedition’s members was the 27 year old Leningrad surgeon Leonid Ivanovich Rogozov. He had interrupted a promising scholarly career and left on the expedition shortly before he was due to defend his dissertation on new methods of operating on cancer of the oesophagus. In the Antarctic he was first and foremost the team’s doctor, although he also served as the meteorologist and the driver of their terrain vehicle.

    29 April 1961

    After several weeks Rogozov fell ill. He 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 2 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 …

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