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January 26, 2010

A job like any other, a life like any other
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 02:22 PM * 35 comments

Last year’s Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal included the astonishing account of an auto-appendectomy in the Antarctic in 1961.

Apparently Leonid Rogozov, doctor to the the sixth Soviet Antarctic expedition, recognized in himself the symptoms of acute appendicitis. When other treatments failed, he briefed other members of the expedition on how to assist him and operated on himself. Read the article yourself, if you have, erm, the stomach for it. (It’s not graphic, not even the photos. Honest.)

I’d doubt it had it been published in another journal, or in April, or if one of the article coauthors were not his son. As it is, I’ve simply added another layer to my astonishment at what people can do when they have to.

Rogozov himself shrugged off his accomplishment, saying that it was simply “A job like any other, a life like any other.” That may be the neatest part of the whole story.

Comments on A job like any other, a life like any other:
#1 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 02:39 PM:

Aww, c'mon, Stephen Maturin pulled off that trick 200 years ago! Not to mention Bob De Niro in Ronin... And those were bullet-wounds, not some rinky-dink internal organ...

#2 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 02:45 PM:

Another amazing story: the world's only known successful DIY C-section birth. (Graphic description; no photos.)

#3 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 03:18 PM:

My personal definition of hero(ine): A person who, under impossible circumstances, carries out their allotted task.

#4 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 03:19 PM:

In the 3rd installment of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series, HMS Surpise (1973) -- action circa 1809 - 10 -- after a bullet is lodged in his ribs from a duel, Dr. Maturin performs the surgery on himself to remove it, with an assistant to hold a mirror. His recovery is slow, however, and isn't completed until some time in the 4th installment, The Mauritius Command (1977), set in the year 10.

There are many accounts of voyageurs (licensed coureur des bois fur traders in 17th and 18th century) and other frontier explorers like Daniel Boone, performing various surgeries on themselves, setting bones and so on.

Of course, women give birth, alone, all the time, even as I type this.

Love, C.

#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 03:43 PM:

#1, #3: The Mautrin self-surgery is dramatized in "Master and Commander." As I recall, he was hit by a bullet intended for a gull. Much was made of removing a bit of shirt-cloth knocked inwards by the bullet. The assistant matched the bit to the hole in the shirt and everyone sighed in relief.

Recovery was much faster in the movie . . .

#6 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 03:46 PM:

Apparently, ancient people did amputations. Though perhaps not on themselves. But surprisingly sophisticated procedures. link

#7 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 04:00 PM:

My God. From the sounds of it, there may well not have been any NEED for the DIY Caesarean -- I can't see any reason that a doctor would have done one under those circumstances, without more information.

I am not going to discuss the end of _The Professor and the Madman_.

#8 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 04:26 PM:

There was a urologist in Florida that practiced at least into the nineties that performed a vasectomy on himself, with the aid of a nurse.

Less impressive surgery, but not a crucial one!

#9 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 05:03 PM:

pericat@6: that's very interesting; though I note that they say anesthesia was used in the article, and the quotes they give hardly support that bit of the theory.

#10 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 06:06 PM:

David, I don't know where they got the anaesthesia part, but I guessed it was something they could infer from testing the remains and the article didn't get into it. Of great interest to me is that they were able to tell the patient recovered with any sign of sepsis.

#11 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 07:16 PM:

Speaking of medical news, The New Yorker just interviewed James Ray, that guy who killed three people in Arizona.

#12 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2010, 08:32 PM:

I would read more of that interview, but I'm trying to work up enough appetite to have dinner.

#13 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 12:39 AM:

pericat: I have difficulty thinking of any anesthetics which would be detected in the remains of a patient who'd survived the operation, particularly after 7,000 years. The claim sounds to be based on the assumption that there must have been one, and the assumption seems to be based more on ignorance of how amputations were conducted up through the 1800s - speed, usually with several strong assistants to hold the patient's limb motionless. But as always, it's a journalist's interpretation of what the scientists actually said and thought, so who knows; that may all have been the reporter's additions.

#14 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 01:20 AM:

I don't want to contemplate performing it on oneself, but according to Wiki:

Trepanation is perhaps the oldest surgical procedure for which there is forensic evidence,[4] and in some areas may have been quite widespread. Out of 120 prehistoric skulls found at one burial site in France dated to 6500 BC, 40 had trepanation holes.[5] Many prehistoric and premodern patients had signs of their skull structure healing; suggesting that many of those subjected to the surgery survived.

#15 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 01:48 AM:

No, No, Not Rogozov!

#16 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 01:52 AM:

This is just to say

I have removed
the appendix
that was in
my midsection

because it
was bothering me
so much
this morning.

a job like
any other
if cold.

#17 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 01:59 AM:

Antarctica seems to be the place to find stories of medical heroism. There's also the doctor who operated on herself for breast cancer a decade or so ago.

#18 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 04:06 AM:

Her name was Dr. Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald.

#19 ::: Nicholas Whyte ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 04:39 AM:

Yeah, a distant cousin of mine supposedly also did an auto-appendectomy somewhere in the tropics about 80 years ago. I suspect that if you have the tools, the drugs, and a reliable assistant or two it is relatively straightforward. As far as these things can be, of course, which is not very far.

#20 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 06:53 AM:

#17: Remade as an episode of House, though Dr. Fitzgerald didn't have a misanthropic medical genius to remotely assist her over the Internet.

#21 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 08:19 AM:

The other article (not for the squeamish) on the .pdf, speculating why torniquet-induced (ischaemic) numbing was not considered for use in pre-anaesthetic amputations is also interesting.

#22 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 09:46 AM:

And wasn't there a solo climber, sometime in the last few years, who got his arm caught, and after a couple of days stuck on the rockface, determined that the only way to get himself free before exposure took him was to cut the arm off?

Oh, yeah, here it is.

#23 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 01:22 PM:

Hey! I posted a comment to this post which got sent to moderation, even though there was nary a URL in it. That was 12 hours ago!

#24 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 01:31 PM:

Was it about home penis-enlargment surgery?

#25 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 01:58 PM:

It's up, at #14.

It was blocked because we have an aversion to square brackets.

The usual explanation is that some spammers use them as part of bbcode-formatted comments, which is a clear sign that someone is Not Posting Original Thoughts.

The real explanation is that square brackets remind a member of the moderation team* of that incident with the Templar, the wet coelacanth and the rubber underwear. One can get flashbacks to moments like that from the oddest things. So we deprecate their use out of charity of spirit.

Or maybe they could be used to make a bomb. Yeah, that's it.
* Not me, nosiree. I was behind the camera for that one.

#26 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 02:10 PM:

Ah. Thanks, abi. Next time I quote from Wiki I'll delete the footnote references.

#27 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 02:28 PM:

abi @ 25... we have an aversion to square brackets

We much prefer his cousin Leigh brackett.

#28 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 05:09 PM:

Scrolling through just now I was wondering how I'd missed reading that comment earlier...

#29 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: January 27, 2010, 08:05 PM:

In 2003, a man named Aron Ralston amputated his own lower arm and hand after a hiking accident. He was hiking solo when his arm and hand got pinned between a couple of rocks and he couldn't get free. He waited a few days before doing it -- by that time his hand was pretty much dead anyway, which presumably meant less pain. But still.

#30 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2010, 03:16 AM:

From the sound of it, "a job like any other" may simply be the description of how he handled it mentally. Procedural learning and memory are very nifty things, and when they kick in, they tend to kick everything else out. Think of a time you've, say, driven a car without really thinking about it.

#31 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2010, 07:46 AM:

My father told me that his copy of Scouting for Boys had a detailed procedure for an appendectomy (using a Scout knife, of course.) Certainly my centennial reprint had a place where that could have appeared. Instead there was apparently modern advice to get help fast.

Google doesn't find that. (But the first successful appendectomy was in 1885, apparently.)

#32 ::: fidelio see unmistakeable spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 11:31 AM:

with a link and everything.

No, we do not want your streaming movies. We can find our own movies. Beat it.

#33 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 11:57 AM:

Earlier than that: 1735, by Claudius Amyand. I thought you were going to mention 1885 as the first successful appendectomy by a Boy Scout in the field, but that predates the modern start of the Scouting movement. heh.

#34 ::: fidelio sees SPAM SPAM SPAMMITY SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 03:21 PM:

Yoo-hoo! Over here!

Seriously. That William Smith there? Single post, name links to a streaming movie site with FREE! movies?

#35 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2010, 03:41 PM:

fidelio @35:

We get to these things when we can. Sometimes there's real life and stuff in the way. Be patient for more than 4 hours.

Love and kisses,
Abi with three hours' sleep last night, and a full day's work thereafter, now trying to pack for a trip.

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