Surgeon still active at 100


The handshake of the world’s oldest surgeon St. Petersburg’s Fyodor Uglov, 99, who was still doing operations last spring, is as firm as that of a 30-year-old athlete.

Uglov’s hands don’t shake, he wears no glasses and can cite Pushkin’s poems by heart.

"I would still be operating too, if I hadn’t broken my leg last year," he said.

Academician Uglov is a phenomenon, not only for his professional, but also for his physical longevity. The average life expectancy for Russian men is 59 years.

Uglov continues to work as a consultant for medical students, surgeons and patients at the Second Hospital Surgery Clinic at the Pavlov Medical University.

Asked why he thinks he has kept going so long, Uglov said he "had no special secret for a long life apart from leading a healthy life," adding that his longevity was obviously not inherited because neither of his parents lived even to the age of 80.

"I have lived so long not because I’ve had an easy life, but rather because I didn’t abuse my health with unnecessary things," he said.

Uglov, who is considered the spiritual father of the sobriety movement in Russia, was a big supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev’s prohibition law, said he "has never drunk a drop of alcohol, never smoked, and kept the same weight since he was 18."

In addition, all his life Uglov has taken cold showers, preferred to walk rather than drive a car, and never done harm to others.

"Evil people don’t live long. Evil eats a person and destroys his body and personality. So I try to do only good toward others."

Uglov’s good deeds are innumerable. Uglov said he had performed "thousands" of operations, while some newspapers put the total as high as 10,000.

Uglov is a pioneer of many new international trends in surgery, especially in regards to the operations on the lungs and heart.

When he speaks of his work his eyes sparkle and he remembers every detail, so that anyone can immediately see what has been the most important thing in his life.

Once, when he was performing an operation in besieged Leningrad, a shell exploded outside the window and the shock wave sent glass fragments into the room.

"I remember that at that moment I didn’t think a second of my own safety but just bent over the patient to protect his wound from the dirt," Uglov said.

One of his life principles is his belief that "there are no completely hopeless situations, and there should always be a way out."

So, when the nurse told him that the explosion had made her drop the only clean scalpel on the floor, Uglov did not hesitate.

"Give me a razor," he said.

Uglov said he got his best experience as a surgeon, when after graduating the Pavlov Medical Institute in Leningrad he went to work in his native town in far away Siberia.

"Since there were not many doctors I got to do almost every kind of operation," he said.

Once, he had to treat a man whom his colleagues told him, had had his head bitten off by a bear.

"It was a strong Siberian hunter who accidentally stepped on a sleeping bear. It then attacked the man. The hunter was so strong that he managed to fight with the bear for quite a while until help arrived, but the bear still managed to scalp the man’s face," Uglov said.

"When I saw him he literally had no face, but we managed to save him."

One of Uglov’s most famous operations was the one in which he cut out 40 percent of a patient’s weight by successfully removing a giant tumor on a thigh.

"None of the doctors in Moscow or St. Petersburg agreed to operate on that man, and even the star surgeon of St. Petersburg oncology medicine, Nikolai Petrov, refused. And then I dared."

Uglov said he saw no reason to retire as long as he was able to work physically and still loves his job.

Uglov was born to the family of an exiled worker and a village girl in a distant Siberian town on Oct. 5 of 1904. He and his five siblings took care of a cow, pigs, and an orchard and went to school when it was minus 40 degrees Celsius.

It was in his childhood that Uglov learned the first lessons of healthy living and chose his future profession.

"My Mom, who had never received any education, always taught us not to drink alcohol, not to smoke, to wash in cold water or rub ourselves with snow, and to leave the table a little bit hungry with our stomachs not completely full," he said.

His illiterate mother insisted that her children got higher education and five of them graduated from universities. One sister who was born in 1914 is still alive.

Uglov said he first thought of becoming a doctor in his childhood when he saw the work of the town’s surgeon, who seemed to be to able help every one.

He enrolled in the medical faculty of Irkutsk University after a month’s travel overland from Kering.

While a student he became infected with two different forms of typhoid at once and his condition was complicated with sepsis.

"I was unconscious for 24 days, but I survived," he said.

Uglov has been married twice, the second time when in his 60s. At that time his wife Emilia, also a doctor, was 30.

"I have never felt that I am old, neither in my soul nor in my body," Uglov said. "I don’t feel that I’m old even now."

"Why should I feel old if I lead a healthy life: don’t drink, sleep at night for at least seven hours, do physical work?"

Uglov said sexual activity is also very important for human health.

"Only people should not abuse themselves with that. Twice a week would be a norm for a person of any age. When people are old, once a week is more preferable," he said.

When elderly men marry much younger women, those men should not show off with extra sexual activity. That can lead them to collapse three years later, he said.

Uglov said he had never done any serious sports or special exercises because his work had prevented that.

"However, I always preferred to walk to my destinations instead of driving a car, and did lots of work at our dacha," he said.

At home, he always washes the dishes and helps his wife with house work.

"It’s good for a man to help a woman around the house, because women are overloaded with house work. If a man doesn’t help his wife with that she may get old too early."

Uglov said his family likes to have guests and often 50 to 70 people gather at his dacha.

"Our only restriction is that nobody can drink alcohol there," he said.

In the mid-1980s when Gorbachev introduced his unpopular prohibition law, Uglov rallied to the cause.

Uglov was convinced that the national tradition of drinking too much vodka has "played a decisive role in mass killing of the nation". In addition, vodka has often been the last straw for those contemplating suicide.

He calculates that drinking alcohol shortens a human lifespan by 20 to 25 years, while smoking steals from seven to nine years of one’s life.

In fact, the idea of a teetotal life was so strong in Uglov’s family, that his son Grigory, now 33, even experienced a shock at the age of seven, when his mother brought a bottle of good wine for their Georgian guest, who visited them at the dacha.

"I remember how Grisha’s eyed filled with tears and he said that we betrayed him because we always said nobody would drink alcohol at our dacha," Uglov said.

"It was hard to explain to him that wine is a very strong Georgian tradition, and that we were afraid to offend our guest by not offering him wine," he said.

Not only did Uglov work as a surgeon, he also wrote several books, including "The Surgeon’s Heart," that became best-sellers in Russia, He has been editor in chief of the journal, Vestnik Khirurgii (Surgery News), for the last 50 years.

He has also worked abroad to teach foreign surgeons.

Uglov said nothing ever bothers him much. "My position is that if there is a problem, people should not run away from it. They should think well and solve it. And then go on with their lives," he said.

"There are no completely hopeless situations in life. There is always a way out."

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