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