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Physicians in the Most Isolated Place on Earth

One doctor overwintering in Antarctica is responsible for the health of around 150 people, 2800 miles away from the nearest hospital, with no transportation available for months at a time. Combine that with the danger of freezing, and you have a rather stressful job. You may spend months treating sports injuries, respiratory illness, summer insomnia, and the rare case of frostbite, but there is always the possibility of a major emergency -and the patient could even be the doctor.

It’s a hypochondriac’s worst nightmare: alone in the Antarctic, with the lone physician too ill to care for anyone else. Modern screenings have reduced that possibility, but the area has been home to a series of legendary crises.

Some countries require their doctors undergo an appendectomy to ward off the potential for appendicitis. If that seems excessive, consider the case of Leonid Rogozov, a Russian physician who diagnosed himself with a swollen appendix during a 1961 expedition. Trapped in the Austral winter with no flights in or out—the harsh weather can prevent aircraft from functioning properly—he deputized a few researchers to be his surgical assistants and cut out his own organ using only local anesthesia. He recovered in just two weeks.

In 1999, Jerri Nielsen discovered a lump in her breast. She performed a biopsy using only an ice cube to numb the area; upon discovering a cancerous growth, she had drugs air-dropped to her until she was able fly out for treatment.

Mental_floss talked to Dr. Dale Mole and Dr. Sean Roden about their stints as physicians at the bottom of the earth. Their experiences will give you new respect for those who volunteer for such duty. 

(Image credit: Dale Mole)


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