Appendix Surgery on the Trail


Alex Zaitsev, the Russian exchange scientist during our 1977 winter, reported this amazing true story about a member of his laboratory: a doctor did an appendix operation during a Mirny-Dome C traverse. It was during the 29 SAE on the way back from Dome C to Mirny. On 13 February 1984, Valentin Gorbachev, radioengeneer and magnetician, felt bad, and it became clear that it was his appendix. Along on the traverse was doctor Igor Mogirev, who had spent the previous winter at Vostok station; he had agreed to take part in traverse as a cook and occasionally as a doctor. So they arranged a clean room in the living sledge (balok) behind the tractor. As it was necessary to keep a clean atmosphere, they switched off the diesel heater, so during the operation it was very cold, as outside it was almost -50C. The location of the traverse at the time of the operation was 999 km from Mirny in the interior of Antarctica. The operation was successful - and after two days they begin to move toward Mirny. This fellow, V. Gorbachev now is in his 60s and happy.

What Alex didn't say was that Vladimir Papitashvili (who more recently is the NSF Aeronomy & Astrophysics Sciences Program Director and one of the Pole summer science representatives) actually was an assistant in that 1984 traverse surgery. That story came out in a June 2009 New Scientist interview (sorry, you now have to subscribe to read the entire article). Alex and Vladimir worked in the same geomag lab in the 1960's.

(The story of the winter 1961 self-appendectomy at Novo is here).