We try to refrain from giving medical advice on this website because – well, because we’re not doctors. If we were doctors we wouldn’t be writing articles about boobs and fails and the other wonders of the world. So you should know right away that the surgical procedures in this piece are things you absolutely should not try at home. That didn’t stop the ten men and women we’re about to introduce you to, though. They each had a problem that only surgery could solve, but instead of going to the doctor they chose to just do it themselves, to varying effect.
The American health care system has pretty deep flaws, sure, but it’s not like the glorious People’s Republic of China is doing much better. Just ask Zheng Yanliang, who was diagnosed with massive, painful arterial thrombosis in his legs but couldn’t afford the surgery to take care of the situation. Doctors told him that the condition was quite rare and he wasn’t likely to live more than a month. So what did he do? Using a paring knife, a hacksaw and a backscratcher wrapped in a dishtowel, Yanliang cut off his own damn leg. The pain was so intense that he lost four molars from gripping his jaw so hard. Known as a neighborhood tough guy, the one-legged Yanliang is now dealing with an infection in the other leg.
Evan O’Neill Kaine
Not all self-surgeries are carried out by amateurs. Evan O’Neill Kaine was one of the most respected practitioners of his era, and when he required an appendectomy in 1921 he took it as an opportunity to prove a point. Instead of letting a colleague do the work, Kaine simply numbed the area with local anesthetic and took the appendix out himself. The operation went uneventfully, with the exception of a stray intestine popping free through the incision and having to be pushed back into place. The surgeon explained that he both wanted to understand how patients felt during an operation as well as test the efficacy of local painkillers.
Jan de Doot
Stones are a hell of a thing, and back in olden times people didn’t realize that diet contributed to them. Dutchman Jan de Doot had been under the knife for surgeries before, but when he developed a sizable stone in his urinary tract, he decided to take matters into his own hands. A blacksmith, de Doot first forged his own custom surgical knife. He then cut an incision in his perineal area (you might know it as the taint) and started moving his legs up and down to dislodge the stone from his bladder. Unfortunately, it was a big one – the size of a hen’s egg – so he eventually had to reach in and pull it out. Ouch.
Plastic surgery is one of those things where you want an experienced hand on the scalpel, especially around the face. But when Fort Lauderdale man Dwain Williams was quoted $5,000 to clean up scar tissue on his forehead from an old accident, it was way outside his budget. So he decided to take matters into his own hands, using a box cutter to hack away at the mass and recording the whole procedure for a grisly video that he posted to viral fame on YouTube. It took a few hours to get all of the scar tissue out, and Williams claims to be very happy with the end result.
Amputation is one of those surgeries that’s a pretty big deal, and having to do it to yourself is pretty nuts. Farmer Sampson Parker didn’t have much of a choice, though. In 2007, Parker was working in his cornfield when some stalks got jammed in his corn picker. He reached in to get them out, but the rollers sucked his hand in. He yelled for help, but things got worse when sparks from the machine lit the field around him on fire. Knowing it was a life or death scenario, he pulled out a pocketknife and sawed through his arm to free it. When it got down to the bone, Parker brutally broke it by dropping all his weight to the ground. He was able to drive his truck to the middle of a nearby road and get the attention of passers-by to take him to the hospital.
We kind of take it for granted that if we need a doctor, one is probably within driving distance. But what if you’re stationed at the Scott-Amundsen Antarctic Research Station, possibly the most remote location on the planet? Dr. Jerri Nielsen was there in 1999 when she noticed a mysterious lump in her breast. Planes can only land at the station four months out of the year, so she was isolated from any potential cancer treatment. At first, Nielsen started preparing for her own death, but then she rallied, trained a carpenter and welder to assist her, and cut out the lump to perform a biopsy on it. She then began a course of self-administered chemotherapy until the weather calmed enough to fly in another doctor.
Ines Ramirez Perez
When you have a baby inside you for nine months, your top priority is getting that little bugger out. But for Ines Ramirez Perez, her new addition was being pretty stubborn. Trapped in a rural cabin in southern Mexico with no doctor for miles and no transportation, Ramirez Perez put herself in the history books by becoming the first woman known to have tried to perform a Cesarean section on herself and survive. Using a kitchen knife, she sliced open her abdomen and pulled little Orlando from her uterus, stitching up the incision with an ordinary needle and thread before passing out. Thankfully, she was brought to medical professionals the next day who cleaned up any potential problems.
Let’s head back to Antarctica for another dude isolated from medical help with a serious problem on his hands. Soviet scientist Leonid Rozgov was part of the twelfth Russian expedition to the South Pole, but he quickly knew something was wrong when he started feeling weak and nauseous. The culprit: an inflamed appendix, which had to come out. With an assistant holding a mirror to help him see, Rozgov dosed himself with a local anesthetic and cut through his abdominal wall. Eventually he dispensed with the mirror entirely and did the rest of the operation by touch alone, removing his inflamed appendix which was just a day from bursting. After the incision was sewn up and the room sterilized, Rozgov finally gave himself painkillers and passed out.
Sometimes self-surgery happens as a result of people running out of patience. Graham Smith had received an abdominal operation back in 2001, but the surgeon left a length of suture in his guts that caused him pain and discomfort. In 2011, the surgical thread started sticking out through his skin, but for whatever reason no medical professional got it out. That drove Smith, an engineer, to basically invent his own surgical tools and take the cord out himself. Because the stitches were knotted together, he had to unravel them as he pulled them out or risk a loose fragment causing more infection. The operation was a success, but his physician wasn’t too happy about Graham’s initiative.
Let’s close this off with perhaps the most terrifying form of self-surgery we’ve ever heard of: putting a damned drill into your brain. Amanda Feilding is a proponent of the medical practice of trepanation, which basically entails taking a drill to your skull to “release the pressure” in there. In 1970, Amanda filmed herself performing the operation for a short film entitled “Heartbeat In The Brain.” It’s tough to watch – as you’d expect for a woman drilling through her forehead – but she claims that the operation was a success and the hole restored the “full pulse pressure” of her heartbeat, preventing brain diseases like Alzheimer’s.