First-person account from surgeon who removed his own appendix

From The Atlantic's archives, a harrowing 1961 account of a Soviet surgeon on a primitive Antarctic base who had to remove his own appendix, stopping frequently as he battled vertigo and blood loss:
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.

Antarctica, 1961: A Soviet Surgeon Has to Remove His Own Appendix


  1. Uh oh….this is going to give those Libertarian Tea Baggers ideas about what our national health policy should be.

  2. I just read about this today. Now this is what I call hardcore. It is amazing what people are capable of when put in extreme situations.

  3. The GOP has expressed interest in providing this story to the millions of lower income persons across our nation. It is hoped that by doing so these persons can feel the patriotic fervor that such self service medical care can give. It is genuinely hoped that by influencing the lower classes to see fit to help the medical profession to save money, more resources will then be available to the affluent and deserving of the highest medical care available.

  4. Pshaw. T’ain’t nothin’. Countess Rosa Branicka, a wealthy Polish noble, performed breast cancer surgery on herself. In a Paris hotel room. In 1843. And lived to be 82.

  5. I can’t decide who is the greater badass, this guy or the woman who performed her own c-section (and lived).

  6. Wikipedia entry on Inés Ramirez who performed a Caesarean section on herself.
    “She took three small glasses of hard liquor and, using a kitchen knife, sliced her abdomen in 3 attempts … cut the uterus itself longitudinally, and delivered a male infant. Both mother and child reportedly survived and are now well.”
    So a doctor performs a self-appendectomy? …not quite as hardcore, I’d say.

  7. ‘First person account’ – couldn’t they get someone to interview him? Does the guy have to do EVERYTHING by himself?

  8. There are older books — encyclopaedias of medicine, as an example — that detail the steps and techniques of performing an appendectomy, first aid for pneumothorace, long bone fractures, relieving intracranial pressure, etcetera where a reasonably thorough laypersons could perform them. Because of the culture of tort, no-one publishes or even re-sells these gems.

    Comparably hardcore as the fellow who removed his own arm with a Swiss army knife after it was crushed by a boulder, and the other fellow who autoamputated after his arm was trapped in his boiler.

  9. That is seriously impressive. I have a hard time just shaving my back-of-the-neck hair in the mirror.

  10. Still not as impressive as removing a parasitic worm from your own intestines while under assault by a pack of wild dingos.

  11. I do! That’s impressive but I would not be able to do that, how do you keep a steady hand?! Bleh.

  12. A man who is his own surgeon has a fool for a patient?

    Well he lived to tell the tale so it worked out in the end.

  13. I think what makes this more interesting than the other cases mentioned in the comments is that he’s written a gripping first-hand account of it, and there’s a photo.

    If anyone saying that the other cases are more hard core or whatever can provide a gripping first-hand account of the surgery, and photos, then I’ll gladly change my mind.

    This is also the only reason that people are interested in stories about people amputating themselves because they’re trapped under boulders – these people have gripping first-hand accounts, and the one guy has video. I haven’t read the books or seen “127 hours” but I understand the appeal, and it’s the same appeal that this Soviet case has.

    1. Yeah – I think it’s the same kind of appeal that makes people gawk when driving past a car accident. Never been able to figure that out, myself – it gives me the willies!

  14. Is that really a photo of him while performing the operation? If so, one of these two comments:

    If photo taken by someone else: Uh, little help?
    If taken by himself: What someone else already said: does the guy have to do EVERYTHING himself? Also, how?

  15. i am such a wussy, or maybe this is a cover story for what really happened (kgb ghostwriter), but what i find perplexing is that the odd camera angle makes it appear as if he took the image with his bare feet, and to that i say, i am such a wussy.

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