Leonid Rogozov was one of 13 scientists and researchers on the Soviet Union’s sixth expedition to Antarctica from 1960 to 1962. One morning in 1961, he woke up feeling general malaise, weakness, and feverish along with pain in his abdomen. He soon understood what was happening. His appendix needed to be removed. Unfortunately, he was the only one who could do it.
So he did.
If movies and television taught us anything during the Cold War, it’s that Russians are amazingly strong superpeople who punch with the force of a full ton, can train even the worst armies to become special operators, and seem to know everything about everyone. In this case, movies and television were absolutely right. Rogozov was the only medical doctor on the team of Soviet scientists at Novolazarevskaya Station, almost 47 miles from the Antarctic Coast, separated by the Lazarev Ice Shelf. On April 29, 1961, the morning he woke up with pain in his abdomen, the average daily temperature would have been around 13 degrees Fahrenheit.
The doctor recognized his symptoms as indicative of appendicitis, an inflammation affecting the appendix that can cause it to burst. Without any kind of treatment, this condition can kill in a matter of a few days. Rogozov had to act fast because his condition was only getting worse. He was beginning to vomit and believed his appendix might soon burst. With the help of two fellow scientists holding mirrors, he used a novocaine solution to numb the direct area and then went to work.
No big deal.
The doctor made a 12-centimeter incision and began looking into his own abdomen and the organs within. He noticed his appendix was discolored with a dark stain and estimated it was about to burst. For two hours, he poked around, resected his appendix, and battled bouts of nausea and the weakness caused by his condition. He sometimes even had to work by feeling alone, being unable to see from the angle he was sitting. But the operation was a success.
Four days later, his digestive system began functioning normally. After five days, his fever receded, and after a week, the incision was completely healed. In two weeks, he was back to duty and after a month, back to heavy labor in Antarctica as if he hadn’t just cut out his own appendix.