3 incredible stories of doctors performing 'Self Surgery'

M3 India Newsdesk Sep 14, 2018

Trained to handle everything- small bruises to serious burns; doctors are usually not fazed by anything even when operating on patients. But there are a exceptional few who have taken things up a notch by performing surgeries on themselves! Here are 3 thrilling stories of self surgery.



When doctors are ‘self-serving’

Most people would find it hard even to prick themselves with a needle or lancet if they are asked to draw their own blood for a blood test, but doctors are a different category of people altogether in that regard. They deal day in and day out with the human body, sometimes operating on it, treating injuries and broken bones, and sometimes even hard to bear injuries such as burns. But, some doctors truly cross a barrier which barely any human can cross; cutting open their own bodies and operating on themselves.

This would probably feel like something out of science fiction or even horror movies, but some doctors have had to do it since they were at a place where there was no other alternative, or some were just driven with passion to try out some new treatment method which they believed could revolutionize medicine for the future generations. We present some of the thrilling tales of some daredevil doctors who have carried out such remarkable and scary feats.

Werner Theodor Otto Forssman

Dr. Forssman is fondly known as the father of cardiac catheterization. In 1922, he was studying medicine at the University of Berlin and he went to the University Medical Clinic for his training. During one of his classes, a professor suggested that doctors could possibly reach the heart “atraumatically via the vasculature.” He then decided to pursue this idea and developed a technique for catheterizing the heart.

One of the questions he had was if a mitral valve defect should be operated on or not without disturbing intrathoracic pressure or using general anaesthesia. While he was studying, he discovered an article in which a horse's ventricle was reached via the internal jugular vein. He decided to do a similar feat on humans using a ureteric catheter via the cubital vein.

He prepared a plan and presented it to the department, but the department prevented him from conducting experimental procedures on patients. He then approached the operating room nurse with his idea, as she oversaw the surgical equipment he would need for this procedure. The nurse agreed and even decided to be the first subject. But Forssman had other plans; he only pretended to operate on her while he began the procedure on himself! After some time, once he had advanced the ureteric catheter in 30 cm and covered the wound with sterile tissue did he release the nurse’s right arm and ask her to call an X-ray nurse.

After walking to the X-ray room and taking pictures, a colleague saw Forssmann and tried to pull the catheter out of his arm. After the first set of images, he saw the catheter was at his shoulder, so he advanced it about a further 30 more centimetres until he could see the tip of his right ventricle cavity.

Forssmann was chastised for proceeding without approval, but was allowed to catheterize a terminally ill woman to administer medication to the right ventricle without fluoroscopy. He was ultimately dismissed for not meeting scientific expectations. However, he was able to practice in a similar catheterization lab in Basel later in his career. From 1950, he practiced as a urologist at Bad Kreuznach. But his contributions were lauded in a big way, in 1956, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine, jointly with André Cournand and Dickinson W. Richards.

Dr. Leonid Rogozov

Dr. Rogozov successfully performed an appendectomy on himself during a Soviet Antarctic expedition as he was the only physician available. As can be imagined, his need for self-surgery was born out of necessity. On November 5, 1960, the sixth Soviet Antarctic expedition sailed from Leningrad to Antarctica with the goal of establishing a polar base. Dr. Rogozov was a young surgeon, and he had postponed his dissertation defense on oesophageal cancer operations to serve on the team of thirteen as their doctor.

After several weeks on the expedition, he noticed classic symptoms of appendicitis which he immediately recognized having done many such surgeries himself, but he was the only medically qualified person on the expedition and he could not be flown out of the place due to inclement weather. He tried antibiotics, cooling and other treatments to no avail. But he was not someone to give up easily, and he decided to operate on himself.

He instructed his team on the steps of creating a sterile environment akin to an operation theatre, autoclaving tools and selected three people who would be with him during it. He asked one to hold a mirror and adjust the table lamp, one to hand him the tools, and one as a reserve in case the other two fainted due to nausea! He sterilized them himself and showed them how to revive him in case he fainted during the procedure. Moreover, he performed it without gloves because he wanted to feel while operating.

He injected himself with a local anaesthetic, made the first 10 to 12 cm incision and the surgery began. Sometime into the surgery, he grew weak and began taking short breaks every few minutes until he found the appendix. Upon identifying it, he found that if it had not been excised it would have ruptured quite soon!

A day later, he had fever and his condition was bad, but after two weeks on an antibiotic regimen, all signs of illness disappeared, and he was able to work. The team returned to Leningrad a year later, and Dr. Rogozov went on to defend his dissertation successfully. Dr. Rogozov ultimately died in 2000. He taught and worked in the Department of Surgery in the First Leningrad Medical Institute. When asked about the surgery he performed on himself, Dr. Rogozov would simply smile and say, “A job like any other, a life like any other.”

M. Alexandre Fzaicou

In 1909, M. Alexandre Fzaicou, a Romanian surgeon, aged 26, developed a left inguinal hernia. Fzaicou unsuccessfully attempted to administer anaesthesia to himself using a mirror, but he was repeatedly unsuccessful in getting the right dose. Ultimately, he injected it in the inguinal region. Sometime later, the anaesthesia set in and he finished the surgery in a seated position, he was in the same position for about an hour. The surgery took about an hour. However, his post-surgical symptoms were limited to epigastric pain and a lack of sleep for a week, and he was able to return to work soon after.

The medical profession is a remarkable one, often stretching people and their limitations when the need arises. The above examples show how some doctors can truly achieve remarkable feats in the interest of science, or even for saving their own lives and alleviating their pain

Sign-up to continue reading. It is free & takes less than 2 mins

  • 45 lakhs+ doctors trust M3 globally

  • Nonloggedininfinity icon
    Free & unlimited access to original articles and quizzes
  • Nonloggedinlock icon
    Secure: we never sell your data
This article is only available to members. Are you a doctor? Click here to signup for free.
M3 app logo
Choose easy access to M3 India from your mobile!

M3 instruc arrow
Add M3 India to your Home screen
Tap  Chrome menu  and select "Add to Home screen" to pin the M3 India App to your Home screen