In 1961, Leonid Rogozov was stationed with 11 other men at a Russian base in Antarctica. They were completely cut off from the outside world due to a polar winter.
During the expedition, Rogozov became seriously ill. After suffering from excruciating pain, it became apparent that he had acute appendicitis.
“He knew that if he was to survive he had to undergo an operation,” the British Medical Journal explained. “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.”
However, it was clear that an operation was necessary if he were to survive.
This is what he wrote in his journal.
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.
He completed the operation in about an hour and 45 minutes, mainly by cutting himself open, feeling around, and finally removing his appendix.
In another journal entry, he remembers the experience.
I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders — after all, it’s showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch. The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time — I try to work surely. Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. Suddenly it flashed through my mind: there are more injuries here and I didn’t notice them … I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. Finally, here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst and …
At the worst moment of removing the appendix I flagged: my heart seized up and noticeably slowed; my hands felt like rubber. Well, I thought, it’s going to end badly. And all that was left was removing the appendix … And then I realised that, basically, I was already saved.
Within two weeks, he was back to work and healthy as a mule. Rogozov later died when he was 66-years-old.