Self-Surgery – Part Two
There was a memorable scene in the movie Jaws where the three main characters were aboard a boat showing off their variously acquired scars. * In American macho-male vernacular, they were having a “pissing contest.”
Quint, the captain of the boat, first removes a tooth. Matt Hooper, the diver, responds by rolling up his sleeve to reveal a moray eel bite. This is followed by Quint showing a scar on his head. Again, Matt pulls up his pant leg and points to a scar, saying, “Bull Shark bite.”
Martin, the sheriff, hesitatingly pulls up his shirt and glances at an appendectomy scar. He quickly covers the scar, not saying a word. Martin doesn’t feel adequately qualified for this particular tête-à-tête.
The scar contest continues until Matt asks Quint about a scar on his left forearm.
After a moment’s silence, Quint says, “I had a tattoo removed.”
“Why?’ replied Matt.
“It said USS Indianapolis,” said Quint somberly. The laughing came to an abrupt end.
(The USS Indianapolis was a Navy Cruiser torpedoed and sunk by the Japanese in July 1945. Of the 1,195 sailors on board, 300 went down with the boat, and approximately 900 ended up in the water.
The horror associated with this tragic sinking was that historians consider it the worst shark attack ever recorded. The men formed groups trying to keep each other afloat and alive.
Oceanic Whitetip sharks started picking off the men on the outer perimeters of the groups. The terror went on for nearly four days before being rescued.
Seeing and hearing their fellow sailors being ripped apart by sharks caused what today would be called PTSD. Many of the men who survived never spoke of this horrific experience again.
There were reports of men who made their way out to the ring of death to give others a chance to survive. This was a generation where women and men stood together against a common enemy.
I can’t help but wonder if, in this polarized and unkind world, such selfless acts are still in the repertoire of today’s humanity.)
OK, time to lighten things up!
I have a personal story that I used to tell whenever the subject of treating our own injuries came up.
But I’ll not speak of it again after researching the people featured in this piece. Doing so would be like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
I humbly submit my experience to you, readers, for its value in regarding minor injuries as such.
A few days before Thanksgiving 2012, I had plunged my hand into a bucket of dog grooming tools, retrieving clippers to trim my shaggy Westies.
In my haste, I ran the clipper tines about a quarter of an inch under my right thumbnail. This is akin to a Far East torture technique in which bamboo slivers are forced under fingernails – it hurts like hell, and you’ll confess to anything.
Long story short, I woke up Thanksgiving morning with a thumb that looked like a plum; I had a nasty infection. But rather than go to the emergency room for proper treatment, fool that I am, I figured I could treat it myself.
I needed something sharp to lance the infection, and a dull kitchen knife wouldn’t do the job without undue pain. So, I went to Taylor’s Grocery with the vague hope that it might be open on Turkey Day.
And, indeed, there sat Bob Taylor behind the counter.
A few minutes later, I was heading back home with a pack of razor blades and isopropyl alcohol. I downed a couple shots of 12-year-old scotch.
Although, in retrospect, it could have been four shots, possibly more. Anyway, I duct-taped one edge of the blade and sliced into the swollen thumb.
The immediate relief upon cutting open that thumb was indescribable. After applying the alcohol (more scotch required), I wrapped it and got a tetanus shot a few days later.
After reading the extraordinary accounts in this column, I will never tell that thumb story again. In fact, the only thing interesting about my “infected thumb” story now is that the Taylor’s still carried double-edged razor blades in 2012.**
Let’s move on to the tales of the truly strong and brave.
The amazing story of Dr. Jerri Nielson
During the Antarctic winter, technically running from June 22 until September 23, flights are generally curtailed to the 80-plus international research stations scattered about the icy continent.
Storms are near constant, runways are ice-covered and ski planes run the risk of skis freezing shortly after landing – this, of course, makes the takeoff difficult and dangerous.
In short, those staying for the winter are on their own until spring.
In 1998, Dr. Jerri Nielsen was the lone doctor among the skeleton crew that winter over at the Amundsen – Scott South Pole Station. It was here that she discovered a lump in one of her breasts.
Nielsen successfully extracted tissue from the mass for biopsy by consulting with other doctors via videoconference. However, the testing material was outdated, rendering the results unreliable.
A military plane air-dropped equipment and supplies, allowing Nielsen to biopsy a tissue sample, indicating that the lump was malignant. Although only a stopgap measure, she trained a small crew of fellow employees and treated the cancer with chemotherapy.
Nielsen was finally evacuated back to the United States in October. Following further treatment, she had a mastectomy, and the cancer went into remission.
Nielsen’s fame cast her into the role of a public speaker. She spoke before groups and conferences throughout the world. The cancer, now metastatic, returned in 2005.
Undaunted, she continued her speaking tours until mere months before her death in 2009.
Her story, Ice Bound: A Woman’s Survival at the South Pole, written by a ghostwriter, became a best seller. A movie of the same name, starring Susan Sarandon as Nielsen, was a huge hit on CBS.
“What’s up, Doc?”
“Not much. Just taking my appendix out.”
Let’s return to Antarctica, where one cannot depend on help from the outside world during the polar winter.
In April 1961, Leonid Rogozov was a 27-year-old general practitioner stationed at a Soviet research station in Antarctica. On April 30, Dr. Rogozov started feeling unwell and noticed signs of peritoneal infection.
By evening the symptoms were much worse; he felt pain in the lower right area of his abdomen. Now, Rogozov was confident that he was suffering from appendicitis.
There had been blizzard conditions for days, ruling out hope of another doctor coming to his aid. He resolves to perform his own appendectomy.
After a painful and sleepless night, Rogozov recruited a driver and a staff meteorologist as assistants. One of his colleagues scrubbed up and handed him the sterilized instruments while the other held a mirror for the doctor.
The only anesthetic available was Novocaine, a local anesthetic. He applied the Novacaine to the surgical area.
After resecting the appendix, which was ready to burst, Rogozov liberally applied antibiotics to prevent further infections, particularly in the peritoneal cavity.
Colleagues documented the entire operation with photographs and a written report. Rogozov’s body temperature was back to normal in five days, and he removed the stitches in seven days. Additionally, Dr. Rogozov was back on his feet and working again after two weeks.
Back in the Soviet Union, Dr. Rogozov continued what would be landmark medical research in Pulmonology. Ironically, the good doctor died of lung cancer in 2000.
In next week’s finale on self-surgery, we’ll examine cases where ordinary people have performed emergency amputations and organ operations.
Not to diminish the brave acts of doctors Nielsen and Rogozov, but it is one thing for a trained medical professional to perform these procedures. But, it is another thing altogether when a man goes out alone trout fishing on two legs and returns home with only one.
We’ll visit a soldier who removed his inflamed appendix and sutured up with what he called “jungle fibers.”
We will also hear from readers about their own experiences.
Everyday people do extraordinary things. We all love to hear about these individuals, and we will in the next issue of The Pocahontas Times.
*YouTube – Jaws, comparing scars short.
** Thanks to Ruth Taylor for refreshing my memory.
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