People Caring for People

Leaving Behind Surgical Instruments

Leaving Behind Surgical Instruments

Patients who undergo surgery don’t stop for a moment to consider that they could leave the operating room and the hospital with foreign objects in their bodies. While most of us believe these are extremely rare occurrences, the fact is that these incidents happen with alarming frequency in hospitals across the nation. Research studies show that thousands of these incidents where surgical instruments and accessories are left in patients’ bodies each year. When this occurs, patients face a heightened risk of suffering serious complications that could even lead to death.

It is important to note that these types of surgical errors can be easily prevented. Incidents where surgical instruments are left in patients’ bodies occur because of negligence, lack of procedures or following proper protocols. If you have suffered health complications or have lost a loved one because of such medical negligence during surgery, it would be in your best interest to contact an experienced Morgantown West Virginia surgical malpractice lawyer who can help uphold your rights and help you secure maximum compensation for your losses.

Common Types of Objects Left Behind

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, in the United States, about a dozen sponges and other surgical instruments are left inside patients’ bodies every day, resulting in about 4,500 to 6,000 cases each year. There is no federal reporting requirement for items left inside patients’ bodies. This makes it difficult to get a precise count.

About 70% of items left in patients’ bodies are sponges, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The remaining 30% are surgical instruments such as clamps and retractors. These objects can cause localized pain, discomfort and bloating. In some cases, they can also cause infections and deaths. For example, in one case, a small sponge was left inside a patient’s brain and the patient ended up having an infection and dying. These mistakes are considered so egregious that they are often known as “never events,” a category of surgical errors, which should never happen, but do happen.

Depending on the type of surgery, surgeons are said to use more than 250 different types of surgical instruments and tools for a single surgery. It may be challenging to keep track of all these tools and devices during surgery and that’s why, sometimes, they get left behind. Some of the common objects that get left behind in a patient’s body during surgery include:

  • Sponges
  • Scalpels and clamps
  • Towels
  • Needles
  • Guide wires
  • Scissors and tweezers
  • Forceps
  • Scopes
  • Surgical masks
  • Surgical gloves
  • Tubes
  • Measuring devices

Of these, the most common to be left behind inside a patient are sponges and needles. Medical professionals find it particularly challenging to keep track of sponges because they are used to absorb blood during surgery and could easily blend in with the patient’s organs and tissues. Sponges are commonly left behind in patients’ bodies during abdominal surgery. The most common areas in which surgical objects are left inside a patient are the abdomen, vagina and the chest cavity.

Why It Happens

Surgical objects are unintentionally left inside a patient’s body during surgery for a number of reasons. One of the main causes of these types of incidents is human error, which occurs largely because of carelessness (negligence). Hospitals usually count on medical staff such as nurses or technicians to keep track of surgical instruments and the number of tools and instruments used during surgery. Human error plays a part in these cases.

A staff member could have an inaccurate count of make a mistake because of exhaustion or chaos in the operating room, particularly if there is a surgical emergency. Many factors can increase the risk that an object may be left behind in the patient’s body after surgery including unexpected changes that occur during the procedure; if multiple procedures are needed; if more than one surgical team is involved; and if the procedure involved significant blood loss.

Serious Consequences and Complications

When surgical tools or accessories are left inside a patient’s body, the consequences could be serious or even fatal. Some patients may go for weeks or months without realizing that they have foreign surgical items inside their bodies. Sponges and other surgical implements could lead to infection, excruciating pain, digestive issues, fever, swelling, internal bleeding, organ perforation or damage or even death.

For example, when a scalpel or a pair of scissors is left behind, organ perforation or puncture could occur. With sponges or gauze, there is the potential for a deadly infection. While it is normal to experience some pain and discomfort after surgery, patients should contact their doctor immediately if they notice any of the following symptoms, which could be warning signs of objects left behind after surgery:

  • Coughing up or vomiting blood.
  • Drainage near the incision or coming out from the incision.
  • Development of an abscess or fistula.
  • Difficulty breathing, swallowing or eating.
  • Constipate or problems with urination, which could indicate a blockage.
  • Severe pain in the area where the surgery was done.
  • Symptoms of infection including fever, pus, soreness, tenderness, swelling.
  • The incision begins to come apart

Compensation for Victims and Families

When a surgeon or medical professional makes an error during surgery that is preventable, and a patient is injured or killed as a result, there are a number of parties that can be held liable for such negligence. Injured victims can seek compensation from the hospital, surgeon, staff members and other potential parties for damages such as medical expenses, lost income, hospitalization, cost of unnecessary surgeries, permanent injuries, pain and suffering and emotional distress. Families that have lost loved ones due to medical negligence can seek compensation for their losses as well by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.

If you or a loved one have suffered complications as a result of surgical instruments or accessories left in the body after surgery at hospitals such as Ruby Memorial Hospital, Monongalia General (Mon General) Hospital, Mon Health Systems WVU University Health Associates or private clinics in West Virginia, the Robinette Legal Group PLLC can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Call us today at 304-594-1800 for a free, comprehensive and confidential consultation.