Boston Corbett, the soldier who killed Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth, performed self-castration in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes

Boston Corbett, the soldier who killed Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth, performed self-surgery to avoid the temptation of prostitutes... plus 7 other amazing self-surgeries.

Self-surgery, as the name suggests, is the act of performing surgery on one's self.  It is not a common practice, but it is not unheard of either. It can be a rare manifestation of a psychological disorder, an attempt to avoid embarrassment or legal action, or an act taken in extreme circumstances out of necessity.

Famous or otherwise, here now are some of the most amazing self-surgeries ever performed:

GENITAL SELF-SURGERIES are generally the least life threatening. Typically, most of those who try this are male, who attempt various procedures such as an orchiectomy, removal of one or both testicles. A small number of persons with male genitalia resort to self-surgery in an attempt to control their sexual urges or due to gender identity disorder.

Boston Corbett  (May 10, 1838 – April 26, 1865, pictured above), the soldier who killed Abraham Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth, had performed self-surgery earlier in life. He castrated himself with a pair of scissors in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes. In 1858, upon finding himself inflamed by the sight of prostitutes walking the streets, he took matters in hand, slicing open his scrotum, stretching out the testes, and snipping his cords.  Afterwards he went to a prayer meeting and ate a meal before seeking help for medical treatment.

ABDOMINAL SELF-SURGERIES are extremely rare.

Evan O'Neill Kane (April 6, 1861 – April 1, 1932) was a surgeon working in Pennsylvania, United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a member of a notable Pennsylvanian family.  He is most well known for the remarkable feat of removing his own appendix under local anaesthetic in 1921 at the age of 60. He operated on himself again at the age of 70 to repair a hernia.

Photo taken in 1932, the 70-year old Dr. Evan O’Neill Kane
of Kane, Pennsylvania operated upon himself for inguinal
hernia. When performing the complicated surgery Kane was
very relaxed and even joking as he came within millimeters
of important blood vessels.
Info and Pic source
Kane had a history of operating on himself. In 1919 he self-amputated one of his own fingers that had become infected. But it was the operation of removing his own appendix under local anaesthetic, performed on 15 February 1921 at the age of 60, which brought him wider media attention. He is believed to have been the first to have undertaken this self-operation. Dr. Kane did this, in part, to experience the procedure from the patient's perspective. He had in mind using local anaesthesia in future on patients with medical conditions that prevented a general anaesthetic being administered, and wanted to ensure that the procedure could be tolerated by the patient. Kane believed ether (the usual general anaesthetic of the time) was used too often and was more dangerous than local anaesthetics. The anaesthetic used by Kane was novocaine, a fairly recent replacement for the more dangerous cocaine. Kane performed the operation, which he had carried out nearly 4,000 times on others, with the aid of mirrors that enabled him to see the work area. At this time the operation was rather more major than today, as the incision to remove an appendix was much larger than that needed for modern keyhole surgery techniques. Nevertheless, Kane was well enough to be taken home the following day.

This operation by Kane was not only a sensation at the time—it continued to be reported for many years afterwards. For instance, Popular Science discusses it in 1933 in an article on anaesthesia. More recently, it was held up as an example of commitment in a self-motivation book.

On another occasion, in 1932 at the age of 70, Kane repaired his own inguinal hernia under local anaesthetic. The hernia had been caused by a horse riding accident six years earlier. The operation was carried out at the Kane Summit Hospital with the press, including a photographer, in attendance. This operation is more dangerous than the earlier appendectomy because of the risk of puncturing the femoral artery. The operation lasted one hour and 55 minutes. Kane was back in the operating theatre working 36 hours later.

Leonid Ivanovich Rogozov (14 March 1934 - 21 September 2000), was a Russian general practitioner who took part in the sixth Soviet Antarctic Expedition in 1960–1961. He was the only doctor stationed at the Novolazarevskaya Station and, while there, developed peritonitis, which meant he had to perform an appendectomy on himself, another famous case of self-surgery.

From September 1960 until October 1962, Rogozov worked in Antarctica, including his role as the sole doctor in a team of thirteen researchers at the Novolazarevskaya Station, which was established in January 1961.

On the morning of 29 April 1961, Rogozov experienced general weakness, nausea, and moderate fever, and later pain in the lower right portion of the abdomen. All possible conservative treatment measures did not help. By 30 April signs of localised peritonitis became apparent, and his condition worsened considerably by the evening. Mirny, the nearest Soviet research station, was more than 1,600 km (1,000 mi) from Novolazarevskaya. Antarctic research stations of other countries did not have an aircraft. Severe blizzard conditions prevented aircraft landing in any case. Rogozov had no option but to perform the operation on himself.
The operation started at about 22:00 on 30 April with the help of a driver and meteorologist, who were providing instruments and holding a mirror to observe areas not directly visible, while Rogozov was in a semi-reclining position, half-turned to his left side. A solution of 0.5% novocaine was used for local anaesthesia of the abdominal wall. Rogozov made a 10–12 cm incision and proceeded to expose the appendix. General weakness and nausea developed about 30–40 minutes after the start of the operation, so that short pauses for rest were repeatedly needed after that. According to his report the appendix was found to have a 2x2 cm perforation at its base. Antibiotics were administered directly into the peritoneal cavity. By about midnight the operation was complete.
Pics source

After a brief period of postoperative weakness, the signs of peritonitis disappeared. Rogozov's temperature returned to normal after five days, and the stitches were removed seven days after the operation. He resumed his regular duties in about two weeks. The self-surgery captured the imagination of the Soviet public at the time. In 1961 he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.

Then there was the case report of the male student who already performed a self-castration before going on to perform another self-surgery:

A male student who had already performed a self-castration was the subject of a 1979 case report by Kalin. The student, some time after his self-castration, also attempted to reduce the activity of his adrenal glands with an injection of bovine serum albumin, luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone and Freund's adjuvant. When this produced an abscess at the injection site, he resorted to self-surgery. His psychiatrist reported:

At four o'clock on the morning of his surgery, he disinfected his dormitory room with spray disinfectant and alcohol and draped an area with sheets that he had previously sterilized. For anesthesia, he took oral barbiturates. He also took hydrocortisone and prepared a canister of vaporized adrenalin, readying himself for a possible shock syndrome. He performed the procedure wearing sterile gloves and a surgical mask. Lying supine and looking into strategically placed mirrors to obtain an optimum view, he began by cleansing his abdomen with alcohol. The incision was made with a scalpel, exposure obtained by retractors, and the dissection carried out with surgical instruments. Lidocaine hydrochloride was injected into each successive tissue layer during the opening. He controlled bleeding with locally applied gelatin powder, while sterilized cotton thread ligatures were used for the larger vessels. After eight hours he had had minimal blood loss but was unable to obtain adequate exposure to enter the retroperitoneal space because of the unexpected pain in retracting his liver. Exhausted, he bandaged his wound, cleaned up his room, and called the police for transport to the hospital because of a "rupture.

Inés Ramírez Pérez (born 1960) is a Mexican woman from the state of Oaxaca who gained media attention after performing a successful Caesarean section on herself in 2000, making her the only person known to have done so successfully.
Ines Ramírez Pérez is a peasant living in rural Mexico. She speaks Zapotec and some Spanish. She had no medical training, but nevertheless performed a successful Caesarean section on herself; both she and her baby survived.

Ramírez was alone in her cabin in Rio Talea, Southern Mexico, when her labour started. The nearest midwife was more than 50 miles away over rough terrain and rough roads. The last pregnancy, three years prior, had ended in fetal death during labor. Rather than experience the loss of another child in the same way, Ramírez decided to operate on herself.
Pic source
At midnight, on 5 March 2000 — after 12 hours of continual pain, Ramírez sat down on a bench and drank three small glasses of hard liquor. She then used a 15 centimetres (5.9 in) kitchen knife, (which she sent her eight year old son, Benito to buy at a knife shop half a mile away, since the family knife wasn't sharp enough), to cut open her abdomen. Ramírez held the knife by the blade instead of the handle and used her index finger and thumb to apply pressure making multiple passes. Ramírez cut through her skin in a 17 centimetres (6.7 in) vertical line several centimeters to the right of her navel, starting near the bottom of the ribs and ending near the pubic area. (For comparison: a typical C-section incision is 10 cm long, horizontal and well below the navel, the so-called "bikini-line incision".) “Blood came out of me like a fountain.”After operating on herself for an hour, pushing aside her internal organs, she rummaged around inside and pulled out her son. As mother and baby lay on the floor, Inés cut the umbilical cord before putting her organs back in place as best as she could. “It was all a mess,” she remembers. She then became unconscious. She used clothes to bandage her wound after regaining consciousness, and sent one of her older sons to find help.

SELF-TRAPANATION involves drilling a hole in one's skull. One of the most famous instances of self-trepanation is that of Amanda Feilding who first encountered the idea of trepanation at the age of twenty-three, when she met an eccentric and handsome Dutchman named Bart Huges, who was an advocate of the benefits of the procedure.

Amanda Feilding, Countess of Wemyss and March, is a British artist, scientist and drug policy reformer.
Feilding learned about the ancient practice of trepanation from Bart Huges, whom she met in 1966, and who published a scroll on the topic. The hypothesis that she investigated proposes that trepanation improves cerebral circulation by allowing the full heartbeat to express itself, which Feilding hypothesises cannot normally occur after fusion of the cranial bones. To compensate for this theorized decrease, she hypothesizes humanity developed an internal system of controlling blood flow in the brain, a development that Feilding identifies with the origins of language. Trepanation, Feilding hypothesises, allows people to achieve higher states of consciousness that she theorizes children experience before their cranial bones fuse.

Hugo Bart Huges (also Hughes) (April 23, 1934 – ca. September 12, 2004) was a Dutch librarian and proponent of trepanation. He attended medical school at the University of Amsterdam, but was refused a degree due to his advocacy of marijuana use. In 1964 he published "The Mechanism of Brainbloodvolume ('BBV')" (also known as "Homo Sapiens Correctus") a scroll in which he proposed that trepanation could be used to enhance brain functionality by balancing the proportion of blood and cerebral spinal fluid. Hughes believed that, when mankind began to walk upright, our brains drained of blood and that trepanation allowed the blood to better flow in and out of the brain, causing a permanent "high.". Using a Black & Decker electric drill, Huges drilled a hole in his skull on 6 January 1965.

The operation took forty-five minutes, he later reported, but it took four hours to clean the blood off the walls and ceiling. Ten days later, at a public happening in Amsterdam’s Dam Square, he removed his bandages, which consisted of thirty-two meters of gauze that he’d painted with the words "HA HA HA HA" in psychedelic colors. When he visited a local hospital to obtain X-ray proof of his act, he was interrogated by psychiatrists, who suspected he was schizophrenic. He was held against his will whilst doctors performed three weeks’ worth of psychological tests. They were forced to release him when these tests indicated he was completely sane.

Did You Know?

Trepanated skull, Iron age. The perimeter
 of the hole in the skull is rounded off by
ingrowth of new bony tissue,
indicating that the patient
survived the operation.
Pic source
  • Kane was a railway surgeon for five different railroads. In Kane's time, railway surgery was markedly different from surgery in a hospital and was considered to be its own field. Surgeons frequently needed to operate at great distances from a proper hospital facility, often in dirty and unsanitary conditions, and operations were performed with only basic equipment and materials. Industrial accidents on the railways resulted in many crushing injuries. A large proportion of the estimated 1,000 operations Kane performed in the three years from 1898 to 1900 were treatment for accidents on the railways, many of which were laparotomies.
  • Trepanation is perhaps the oldest surgical procedure for which there is archaeological evidence, and in some areas may have been quite widespread. Out of 120 prehistoric skulls found at one burial site in France dated to 6500 BC, 40 had trepanation holes. Many prehistoric and premodern patients had signs of their skull structure healing, suggesting that many of those subjected to the surgery survived.


  1. Too bad Boston Corbett lived at a time when masturbation was seen as an absolute no-no, even as a sin against the Commandment against adultery.

    Also Corbett eventually loaded rocks into his pockets and jumped off a bridge, app. in distress and the gnawing of conscience over his mishandling the Lincoln assassination. I think he was mentally disturbed from the start.

    1. Thanks for the input Paul!
      We also had the feeling he was disturbed from the beginning. And yes... too bad


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