Australian doctors have their appendix removed before traveling to Antarctica

Going for a long, cold and isolated winter on Australian Antarctic stations? One thing doctors have to take care of is removing your appendix. While everyone else is allowed to keep this small organ intact, doctors have to perform an appendectomy due to the difficulty of evacuation during the harsh winter months.

The need for doctors to remove the appendix is due to the fact that there is usually only one doctor in Antarctica during the winter. Evacuation back to Australia is virtually impossible, at least for part of the year. This precaution allows doctors to avoid the risk of developing appendicitis, a condition requiring immediate surgical intervention.

Appendicitis is a common inflammation of the appendix that affects approximately 5-9 out of every 100 people in the United States. While this condition is not usually fatal, it can be severe and sudden, worsening the condition within hours. If left untreated, the appendix can rupture and lead to a serious infection called peritonitis, which can be fatal.

For most expedition participants in Antarctica, having a doctor on site ensures safety in the event of appendicitis. However, if the doctor himself becomes ill, the situation becomes much more complicated. In the history of Australian Antarctic stations, such a scenario occurred twice.

The first case occurred in July 1950, when Dr. Serge Udovikoff, working on Heard Island, fell ill with appendicitis during the Antarctic winter. Dr. Otto Reck, who replaced Udovikovoff, successfully performed an appendectomy on station cook Jack Starr just over a year later. Dr. Udovikoff considered performing the operation himself, but fortunately an Australian Navy vessel was sent to evacuate him.

The evacuation process was far from smooth. The HMAS Australia (II) vessel encountered gale force winds, snow, sleet and hail, and there were difficulties with stern water due to elevated plankton in the sea. Despite these difficulties, Dr. Udovikoff was eventually brought aboard and sailed to Fremantle.

After this incident, it was made a requirement that doctors must undergo an operation to remove appendicitis before being sent to Antarctica. However, this rule was not enforced in other countries. In April 1961, physician Leonid Rogozov, who was in Novolazarevskaya station on the mainland of Antarctica, underwent appendicitis, but he was not lucky to be rescued.

Requiring appendectomy for doctors at Australian Antarctic stations ensures their safety and well-being during the harsh winter months when evacuation is virtually impossible. Although appendicitis is a common condition, the risk of complications and limited access to medical care in Antarctica make this precaution necessary.

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