People Who Have Performed Surgery… on Themselves

I recently saw a survival show where a guy got his arm stuck in a piece of equipment in his basement, it was either a boiler or a furnace. Knowing that his fiance was out of town for a week, and that his dog was upstairs with no food, he continued to struggle, only getting his arm stuck further down in the grate. As he lost feeling and circulation in his arm a few days later, mentally and physically drained…he decided to amputate his own limb. When he was about halfway through, his coworkers who were worried about his absence from work, came over and called paramedics. However, doctors were not able to save his arm. Due to the restricted blood flow to his arm, and lack of circulation for over two days, he may have lost his arm anyways, even if he had not performed his impromptu surgery.

Be careful out there. Even in your own home.


Self-surgery is the act of performing a surgical procedure on oneself. It can be a rare manifestation of a psychological disorder, an attempt to avoid embarrassment or legal action, or an act taken in extreme circumstances out of necessity.

On April 30, 1961, Dr. Leonid Rogozov removed his own appendix at a Soviet Research Station in Antarctica.

On April 30, 1961, Dr. Leonid Rogozov removed his own appendix at a Soviet Research Station in Antarctica.

Abdominal Surgery

Abdominal self-surgery is extremely rare. A few well-publicized cases have found their way into the medical literature.

  • On February 15, 1921, Dr. Evan O’Neill Kane carried out his own appendectomy in an attempt to prove the efficacy of local anaesthesia for such operations. He is believed to have been the first surgeon to have done so. In 1932, he performed an even more risky self-operation of repairing his inguinal hernia at the age of 70.
  • On April 30, 1961, Dr. Leonid Rogozov removed his own infected appendix at the Soviet Novolazarevskaja Research Station in Antarctica, as he was the only physician on staff. The operation lasted one hour and 45 minutes. Rogozov later reported on the surgery in the Information Bulletin of the Soviet Antarctic Expedition.

At four o’clock on the morning of his surgery, he disinfected his dormitory room with spray disinfectant and alcohol and draped an area with sheets that he had previously sterilized. For anesthesia, he took oral barbiturates. He also took hydrocortisone and prepared a canister of vaporized adrenalin, readying himself for a possible shock syndrome. He performed the procedure wearing sterile gloves and a surgical mask. Lying supine and looking into strategically placed mirrors to obtain an optimum view, he began by cleansing his abdomen with alcohol. The incision was made with a scalpel, exposure obtained by retractors, and the dissection carried out with surgical instruments. Lidocaine hydrochloride was injected into each successive tissue layer during the opening. He controlled bleeding with locally applied gelatin powder, while sterilized cotton thread ligatures were used for the larger vessels. After eight hours he had had minimal blood loss but was unable to obtain adequate exposure to enter the retroperitoneal space because of the unexpected pain in retracting his liver. Exhausted, he bandaged his wound, cleaned up his room, and called the police for transport to the hospital because of a “rupture”.

  • In 2000, a Mexican woman, Inés Ramírez, was forced to resort to self-surgery – a Caesarean section – because of lack of medical assistance during a difficult labour: “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.”

Amputation of Trapped Limbs

  • In 1993, Donald Wyman amputated his leg with his pocketknife after it was pinned by a tree.
  • In 1993, Bill Jeracki was fishing near St. Mary’s Glacier in Colorado, when a boulder pinned his left leg. Snow was forecast and without a jacket or pack, Jeracki didn’t believe he would survive the night. Fashioning a tourniquet out of his flannel shirt and using his bait knife, he cut his leg off at the knee joint, using hemostats from his fishing kit to clamp the bleeding arteries.
  • In 2002, Doug Goodale cut off his own arm at the elbow in order to survive an accident at sea.
  • Aron Ralston, a former student at Carnegie Mellon University was on a canyoneering trip in 2003 in Blue John Canyon (near Moab, Utah), when a boulder fell and pinned his right forearm down, crushing it. First he tried to chip away the rock around his hand with his pocket knife, but gave up the attempt after two days. Next he tried to lift and move the boulder with a simple pulley system made with rope and gear, but that failed too. On the sixth day a dehydrated and delirious Ralston had a vision of himself as a one-armed man playing with his future son. He bowed his arm against the chockstone and snapped the radius and ulna bones. Using the dull blade on his multiuse tool, he cut the soft tissue around the break. He then used the tool’s pliers to tear at the tougher tendons. He was careful not to sever the arteries before attaching an improvised tourniquet. After he cut the main bundle of nerves, leading to agonizing pain, he cut through the last piece of skin and was free. In bad physical shape, and having lost more than a litre of blood, he managed to rappel 60 yards down and hike another 8 miles, when he ran into a Dutch family who offered help and guided him to a rescue helicopter which happened to be nearby looking for Ralston and took him to a hospital. His story was dramatized in the film 127 Hours (2010).
  • In 2003, an Australian coal miner trapped three kilometres underground by an overturned tractor cut off his own arm with a box-cutting knife. The 44-year-old man, who was not identified by police, was working late at the Hunter Valley mine when the tractor tipped over, crushing his arm and trapping him.