It is normal for a person to work and retire from service after a certain number of years or at a stipulated age. However, an 89-year-old Russian surgeon, Alla Ilyinichna Levushkina, believed to be the oldest working surgeon in the world, has proved that the fire of passion can never be quenched by age.
The 89-year-old worked in the air medical services for 30 years, when she treated patients living in the Russian wilderness and has now returned to her native land, Ryazan, southeast of Moscow, where she grew up and studied, and her appetite and drive has not wavered.
“Being a doctor isn’t just a profession but a lifestyle”, she told Lite FM when asked why she hasn’t retired. “If I stopped working, who is going to perform the surgeries?”.
While many may question the pensioner’s capability, rest assured, a coworker of Alla’s has confirmed that her hands are as steady as ever and in the 150 plus surgeries they have preformed together there have been zero fatalities.
Irina, one of the many invalids who feel uneasy with her treating them told Lite FM: “At first I felt I couldn’t trust a surgeon who is so old, but after she palpitated me with her firm fingers – all doubts gone”.
Alla has over the course of her 67-year career, performed more than 10,000 surgeries.
She starts work each day at 8am holding a clinic for her patients before going to theatre to start surgery at about 11am. Three hours later, she heads to theatres at Hospital Number 11 in Ryazan to begin her day’s operating list. There an assistant helps her up on to a small platform to give her a better view of her patient on the operating table.
Standing at a petite 4ft 9ins the supposed oldest working surgeon still performs operations four days a week.
However, medicine isn’t always where she saw her career going – she originally wanted to be a geologist, reports Russian newspaper Kommersant. But she was inspired to become a surgeon after reading a novel about doctors and went on to study at the Moscow Medical Institute.
She told the newspaper that, at the the time, there was fierce competition to get a place at the institute but that only made her more determined.
Alla chose to specialise in proctology, a field of medicine that deals with bowel and rectal problems. She said at the time you could count all the proctologists in Russia on one hand and no one wanted to handle that part of the body because it was too messy, but that was no deterrent for her.
Reflecting on how tough it was to survive in medical school, she told Kommersant:
“Once a month the medical students could depend on getting a bottle of alcohol, we would run to the market and use it to barter – half a litre could get you a loaf of bread.
“We only survived because we split everything between us in the student halls.
“My parents, who barely had enough to eat themselves, sent a few potatoes from our village in Ryazan.
“Other students shared their salo [cured pork fat] and grains. That’s how we managed.
“I remember one girl brought a whopping great bream. It was incredible!
“We dined out on it for a week and then made soup from the bones we had gnawed on until they shone.”
Alla refers to herself as the ‘racing horse’, because she is immediately filled with energy when she enters the operation theatre. Although she will turn 90 on May 5, 2017, this is what she has to say about retirement:
“I work and everything. I have nothing to do in retirement. Doctor – it’s not just a profession, it’s a way of life.
“Why else would the surgeon live, if not to work?”
The assumed world’s oldest working surgeon who never married and has no children, lives in a studio apartment with her eight rescue cats.
When not at work she helps to care for her disabled nephew.
In honour of her loyalty to the profession, Alla was recently awarded the prize for the best doctor in Russia.