The Self-Surgery of Dr. Evan O’Neill Kane
On 15 February 1921, as the American surgeon Evan O’Neill Kane lay on a table in a hospital waiting to have his appendix removed, he decided to conduct an impromptu experiment — to find out whether it would be possible to remove his own appendix. So he sat up and announced that everyone should step back because he was going to perform the operation himself. Since he was the chief surgeon at the hospital, the staff reluctantly obeyed his strange command.
Dr. Evan O'Neill Kane
Dr. Evan O'Neill Kane
Kane propped himself up with pillows in order to get a good view of his abdomen. He injected cocaine and adrenalin into his abdominal wall, and then he swiftly cut through the superficial tissue, found the swollen appendix, and excised it.
The entire procedure took thirty minutes. There was only one slight moment of panic when part of his intestines unexpectedly popped out of his stomach as he leaned too far forward, but he calmly shoved his guts back inside his body and continued working. Kane noted he probably could have completed the operation even more quickly if it hadn't been for the air of chaos in the operating room as the hospital staff milled around, unsure of what they were supposed to do.
Kane enjoyed a full and swift recovery. Fourteen days later he was back in the hospital operating on other patients. He later explained that he had performed the self-experiment both to know how a patient feels when being operated upon, and to better understand how to use local anaesthesia to best advantage.
Dr. Kane operating on himself in 1932
Emboldened by his success, when he needed a hernia operation eleven years later, at the age of seventy-one, he decided to self-operate again. Unfortunately, this second surgery proved more problematic. He never fully regained his strength, came down with pneumonia, and died three months later.
- Kane, E. O. (March 1921), "Autoappendectomy: A Case History", International Journal of Surgery, 34(3): 100-2.
- "Dr. Evan Kane Dies of Pneumonia at 71" (2 April 1932), New York Times: 23.
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