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The Doctor Who Performed Three Major Surgeries On Himself

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockMay 31 2022, 17:30 UTC
surgery

Probably best to leave appendectomies to the professionals, even if sometimes that's you. Image credit: Vadim Zakharishchev/Shutterstock.com

History is full of doctors and scientists who went the extra mile in the name of science and experimented on themselves, from the doctor who pumped hydrogen gas into his own anus to save thousands of lives, to the physician who smuggled thousands of parasites back to the US inside his own semen.

Surgeon and doctor Evan O'Neill Kane was amongst these great people, performing various surgeries on himself to prove that they could be done without general anesthetic. Born on April 6, 1861, in Darby, Pennsylvania, Kane became chief surgeon at Kane Summit Hospital, where he spent most of his career. Kane was a big believer in only using general anesthetic when necessary, given the inherent risk and potential complications of knocking people unconscious in this manner. He really put his money where his mouth is on this one, conducting surgery on himself for the first time in 1919, removing one of his own fingers that required amputation following an infection.

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Then, in 1921, he needed to undergo a much more serious operation, to remove his appendix due to chronic appendicitis. During his time as a surgeon up to that point, he had performed over 4,000 appendectomies and had decided that it was more practical and safer to perform them under local anesthetic. This was something he hadn't tried to prove on his own patients, but now he had a willing volunteer: one Evan O'Neill Kane. 

On 15 February 1921, Kane propped his patient (also Kane) using pillows and set up mirrors so that the surgeon (Kane) could get a proper view of the situation during surgery. Kane injected himself with novocaine, cut himself open, clamped his blood vessels, and started rooting around for his appendix. Reportedly chatting and laughing throughout the operation, he successfully removed his own appendix, before his wound was closed up by his brother (also a surgeon), who was watching the operation till that point. Not bad for a surgeon who was down a finger thanks to a previous operation.

Surprisingly, this was not the end of his adventures in self-surgery. In 1932, aged 70, he operated upon himself for an inguinal hernia that he had picked up six years prior while riding on a horse. During this complicated operation, he continued to laugh and joke, even when he came close to important blood vessels with his instruments. One slip and he could have damaged his femoral artery.

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When the moment came to conduct the most dangerous part of the operation – threading a suture under his abdominal muscle, within millimeters of important blood vessels – he paused joking to acknowledge "the risk is here and I must face it" before successfully completing the surgery, with minimal input from the other gathered surgeons.

Kane died a few months later of an unrelated case of pneumonia.


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