Evan O’Neill Kane: The Man Who Operated On Himself.. 3 Times!

in #science5 years ago (edited)

Evan O’Neill Kane Operating On Himself (credit)

As you might have noticed from my recent posts on the man who put bees to sting his testicles and the man who ate asbestos and sawdust, I have grown an interest for crazy self-experiments done in the name of science. 

So, today's hero is Evan O’Neill Kan (April 6, 1861 – April 1, 1932), a surgeon from Pennsylvania, United States who put his surgical skills to the ultimate test by operating on himself.. three times!

Evan O’Neill Kane (credit)

His story of self-surgery began in 1919, when he self-amputated one of his fingers, presumably to prevent the spread of infection. I tried to do some digging for more details but things are unclear on the exact details of the hows and whys that led to the amputation. 

But it was on 15 February 1921, at the ripe age of 60 when he rose to fame for becoming the first man to remove his own appendix! Why did he pull such a crazy stunt? According to the newspapers of the time, the first reason was to gain the trust of the patients who had second thoughts before surgery:

"If a surgeon could actually do the work upon himself, there need be no fear on the part of the patient of having another do it." said Kane to the New York Times, the very next day after his surgery. [source]

But his other reasoning is much more important. After performing more than 4.000 appendectomies, at some point Kane decided that it was about time to take a new approach. He believed that the operation could well be performed with the use of a local instead of a general anaesthesia and all the potential risks it carried back then:

I believed that I could exemplify in my own case that the operation could be done without the use of a general anaesthetic, thus saving many individuals who have heart or other serious troubles from the troubles of a general anaesthetic. [source]

Our brave hero believed that ether (the go to general anaesthetic back then) was used too much and too often. He also promoted the use of  novocaine as a safer replacement for the more dangerous and addictive cocaine that was prevailing back then. Surviving his very own scalpel would certainly make a strong point!

How Did The Surgery Go?

Kane carried the operation all by himself with the aid of mirrors that allowed him to see..himself while operating:

Sitting on the operating table propped up by pillows and with a nurse holding his head forward that he might see, he calmly cut into his abdomen, carefully dissecting the tissues and closing the blood vessels as he worked his way in. Locating the appending, he pulled it up, cut it off and bent the stump under. [source]

The very next day he went home to recover like a boss.

But Wait, There's More!

That wasn't the last time Kane visited his own  operating table. In 1932, at the age of 70, he again operated on himself at the Kane Summit Hospital, this time for an inguinal hernia cause by a horse riding accident six years earlier. This time the media made sure to not lose a good story and there was even a photographer during the operation.

Although the surgery carried more risks than the last one, Kane again did a job well done. Just 36 hours later he was back on his feet operating patients again!

Kane Operating On Himself For An Inguinal Hernia (credit)

Contribution To Medical Science

Other than proving he is a true badass with balls made of steel, Evan O’Neill Kane left a huge legacy for the medical science. As aforementioned, he was one of the pioneers local anaesthesia. But his contribution to science didn't stop there.

During his career as a railway surgeon (yeah, that was a thing!) he contributed or proposed a number of small innovations here and there including asbestos bandages, mica windows for brain surgery, and multiple site hypodermoclysis. He was even one of the first to test the waters of music therapy, by having music played with a phonograph prior to anesthetizing his patients to help them relax and go to "sleep . 

TL;DR, A true bad-ass pioneer of the medical profession.


Holy moly!! I think, in terms of steel balls, this dude slightly beats the Beekeeper. I definitely feel like 'less of a man,' compared to these guys.

You are not alone :P

This MAN is Unbelievable ! Never heard the story before. One thing is for sure . He stayed loyal to his Hippocrates oath !

Every doctor should do this is a test XD

When i saw the title, i instantly remembered "The Knick" - TV series about genius, drug addict surgeon, who in the end also operated on himself. Story based on the real life surgeon Dr. William Stewart Halsted. Much recommended :) great article!

Sounds like a cool series, I will check it out :D

Hmm, now I'm stuck here reading up on railway surgeons:P
This guy was a true boss!

Yeah, I got stuck up on that too, spend more than 1-2 hours reading about them! Was really surprised there was such a thing!

Oh my God, how can we operate ourselves? Already when we have to be operated we are usually stressed, we need to be reassured .... And there, this man already a certain age operates himself ... Wow ... Good you tell me he was not absolutely alone (thankfully) but all the same, it's really very brave and a little crazy ...

brave, crazy and a bit of stupid. Definitely a winning combo :D

Holy lamb!! What was the man thinking when he was operating on himself? What if the procedure had gone awry?
Well, he had gotten his fame though. That's one bad ass surgeon :)
Nice piece buddy

Thanks mate ^_^

He is indeed a Legend...i knew about him when i was in secondary school from my aunt. He just did what people taught was impossible. I know that someday my story will be heard like this. Thanks for sharing @trumpman sir.

You are so lucky your aunt shared with you such cool stories. I only heard of him yesterday!

Seriously, I wonder why geniuses are always taking risky steps and doing weird stuffs?
Although it was captivating until I read the inguinal surgery, that was too far!

big player and such a badass, i cut a bit my finger and it's like the end of the world :P imagine how sick and tired would he been always hearing that ''local anesthesia isn't gonna work, it's too risky''

"Congressman Kennedy, a devote Catholic, and his wife pusing a baby carriage. Nice T-Shirt"

Good thing you are not a doctor! XD

Wow, you have to be very brave to perform surgeries on yourself. Excellent publication, thanks for sharing, regards.

Wow this man must had a heart of steel,bravo man!I can't even stand if doctors is injecting someone.but this man went to just another level I wonder how his hands didn't start to shiver.

It must have taken guts to do that.

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