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uring the Cold War years, many magnificent human feats were performed. The first man and woman in space, the invention of the nuclear bomb and many other achievements mark the late 20th century as one of great human progress.

In this time period a race between the great powers, the USSR and the United States developed, manifesting itself in many fields. Competition between them was fierce making sporting and scientific achievements very important.

One of these ways was the scientific race in the Antarctic. Both powers sent over many of their scientists to construct outposts and conduct research on this relatively unexplored continent.

The Doctor

Leonid Rogozov (on the left) outside Novolazarevskaya Station. Source: Vladislav Rogozov

Leonid Rogozov was part of one such expedition; being a recently trained surgeon he wanted to prove himself, so he put a halt to his studies and joined the Sixth Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1960.

The expedition team comprised of a team of 12 who were sent to build a new base at the Schirmacher Oasis. The Novolazarevskaya Station was up and running by the middle of February 1961, and with their mission complete the group settled down to see out the hostile winter months.

Life or Death

As the polar winter rolled in the 27-year-old Leonid Rogozov started to feel tired, weak, and nauseous. Later, a strong pain developed down the right side of his abdomen.

Being an experienced doctor with over 7 years of medical schooling it didn’t take long for him to self-diagnose himself. A statement was taken from his son in which he said.

“Being a surgeon, he had no difficulty in diagnosing acute appendicitis. It was a condition he’d operated on many times, and in the civilised world, it’s a routine operation. But unfortunately he didn’t find himself in the civilised world — instead, he was in the middle of a polar wasteland.” — Vladislav, Rogozov’s Son

Leaving the appendix unattended would mean almost certain death for the doctor. Being the only qualified surgeon in the expedition team, he had no hope for help, especially as the fierce Antarctic winter was in full swing. He took a rash decision; instead of risking death, he would operate on himself.

The surgery

Rogozov meticulously planned how the operation would unfold and assigned his colleagues specific roles and tasks. He chose two assistants who would help him with the lighting, tools, and the mirror he would initially use to see his work.

Placing himself under anesthetic was out of the question as he needed a clear head to perform the surgery. Instead, a local anesthetic was administered to his stomach, and injections of adrenaline would be given to him periodically to keep him awake.

Rogozov during the surgery. Source: Vladislav Rogozov

After opening himself up Rogozov gave up on using the mirror as the backward view was more confusing than helpful, instead, he opted to use his sense of touch.

Danger struck as Rogozov was nearing the end of his procedure as he was losing a lot of blood and becoming faint. He feared that he would fail on the last hurdle.

“Finally here it is, the cursed appendage!” -Rogozov

The surgery would turn out to be successful. After the removal of the appendix, Rogozov didn’t pass out from the fatigue. He made sure he sewed himself back up and that all the tools he used were properly sanitized. Only then would he take some antibiotics and rest after achieving such a momentous task.

A national hero

After much delay due to the harsh Antarctic winter, the crew of the expedition was airlifted using single-engined planes, one of which nearly plummeted into the sea as the crew reached safety.

Rogozov after his return to the USSR. Source: Vladislav Rogozov

When he reached the USSR Rogozov was received as a national hero. Soviet media portrayed his achievements to the level of those of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, who performed his mission only 18 days before Rogozov’s surgery.

“Both were 27, from working-class backgrounds and performed and they both achieved something that had not been achieved in human history before.” — Vladislav

The perfect poster boy for the ideal soviet man was created through the use of both Gagarin’s and Rogozov’s images. For his achievement, Rogozov was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour which honoured great deeds and services to the Soviet state and society. His bravery was held up as a trophy of Soviet accomplishments

This story is best concluded by a statement given by Vladislav when reminiscing about his father’s achievements in which he states the following.y

“If you find yourself in a seemingly desperate situation when all the odds are against you. Even if you are in the middle of the most hostile environment, do not give up. Believe in yourself and fight, fight for life.” — Vladislav Rogozov

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