Reasons Why Surgical Tools Are Forgotten Inside Patients

You’ve been sitting in your doctor’s office for over an hour waiting for your test results to come back from the lab. You underwent double bypass surgery about a week ago, and your doctor required you to have several periodic checkups within the first few months following the procedure. Today was the first follow-up and it is taking forever. However, you have been experiencing sharp pains in your chest and want to make sure everything is okay.

Suddenly, your doctor and the surgeon who performed your procedure come bursting through the doors, frantically telling you that you need to get prepped for emergency surgery. You immediately freak out. What is it? Did the bypass not work? Is your heart about to stop?

As you’re placed on a gurney and prepped to go into the operation room, your surgeon explains that your recent X-ray showed a peculiar object in your chest, which he believes to be a surgical sponge.

Seriously? A surgical sponge has been sewn into your chest for over a week? How could this happen?

Common Causes of Retained Objects (Surgical Tools Left Inside Patients)

An estimated 1,500 people a year fall victim to having a surgical instrument or tool left inside their bodies following a medical procedure. Even more alarming, according to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations the mortality rate for these victims is a staggering 35 percent due to infections, blood clots, and punctures.

Although your odds of suffering a retained object after surgery are a lot less drastic than becoming involved in a car accident, a recent Harvard Study concluded that some surgeries and patients are more susceptible than others. Higher risk factors include:

  • Emergency surgeries. The fast-paced nature of emergency surgeries require your doctors to work quickly and systemically in order to prevent excessive bleeding, trauma, and death. Unfortunately, the specific focus on keeping you alive can shadow less important details—such as counting sponges.
  • Unforeseen changes in procedure. When a surgeon has to compensate for unforeseen complications, he can easily become distracted and lose focus. For example, if the doctor was sewing up an artery, and all of the sudden a vein burst causing you to bleed internally, he would immediately put his focus on controlling the bleed and may leave the artery clamped. However, once he has the bleed under control, he may forget how many clamps he had on the artery. Furthermore, if they are concealed by tissue, blood, or muscles, he may not see the clamps in order to remove them.
  • Multiple or complicated surgeries. During procedures, such as multiple bypass or exploratory surgery, your surgeon’s focus can easily be drawn into several different directions at once. Without a complete focus at the immediate task at hand, tools can become lost or forgotten.
  • Obesity. The more tissue, fat, and obstructions there are within the surgery site, the more risk there is that a tool can become hidden or lost.

Filing a Malpractice Claim After a Surgical Blunder

Besides being extremely unnerving, retained objects can also be extremely susceptible to infections, and need to be removed as soon as possible. If you feel feverish or sick after a surgery, or experience sharp, penetrative pain around your surgical wound, seek medical attention immediately for a full assessment, diagnosis, and potential emergency removal.

Once the object has been successfully removed, contact us for a consultation about your patient rights. No matter what the reason for the retention, if a doctor, nurse, surgeon, or hospital is responsible for the error, they should also be held responsible for the damages. Call us today to make sure you have the knowledge, support, and experience you need to file and pursue your malpractice claim. 

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