Operation Antarctic Appendix
This is not a situation you want to be in during an Antarctic winter.
Australian Antarctic Division, Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jeff Ayton “The Russian doctor in 1961, Dr Rogozov, having to do his own appendicectomy under local anaesthetic and with assistance from his lay team, which was an extraordinary feat.”
While some people will do almost anything to visit Antarctica. Australian doctors must sacrifice a piece of themselves.
Australian Antarctic Division, Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jeff Ayton “The Australian Antarctic doctors since 1950 have had to have their appendix out. It’s a unique request and it’s always a discussion point at the interview and the medical screening.”
The appendix removal policy came into force after a doctor on Heard Island fell ill, requiring a complex emergency evacuation.
With only a single doctor on each Australian Antarctic station over winter, they must be in good health.
Australian Antarctic Division, Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jeff Ayton “It’s not just the instance of appendicitis, it’s the concern about any abdominal mischief and the diagnosis of that remotely when you haven’t got a doctor on site for the doctor. Because appendicitis is a life threatening condition and you can deteriorate within hours to a ruptured appendix and peritonitis and die.”
Despite the unusual job requirement, doctors are still lining up to go south.
A new group of freshly scarred Antarctic doctors have arrived at the Australian Antarctic Division ahead of their posting to the icy continent.
The doctors, who are in Kingston head office for months of intensive training, have voluntarily undergone an operation to remove their appendix before they head south.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Jeff Ayton, said it’s an unusual job requirement, but one that’s necessary.
“We only have a single doctor at each station over winter, so we can’t afford for them to fall ill with a life threatening condition such as appendicitis,” Dr Ayton said.
“The appendix removal policy came into force in the 1950s after our doctor on Heard Island became sick with appendicitis, requiring a complex emergency evacuation.”
Later, in 1961, there was also the case of a Russian Antarctic doctor, Dr Rogozov, having to undertake his own appendectomy under local anaesthetic, with assistance of a lay surgical team.
“It was a remarkable feat and one that no doubt saved his life, but it’s something we want to avoid at our stations.”
The Australian Antarctic Program doctors are undertaking a range of training over the next two months including expedition medical skills, dentistry and lay surgical training.
The doctors will spend a year as the sole medical practitioners at Casey, Davis and Mawson station in Antarctica and on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.