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All surgeries include some level of risk, and surgeons are not immune to human error. Between anesthesia and other drug complications, possible infections, and simply performing the procedure incorrectly, there are many factors that go into every surgical procedure. Another risk we don’t often consider is retained surgical objects.
It’s something you hear about in outrageous news stories, and even healthcare providers consider them “never events”—something that just doesn’t happen. It’s true that leaving a surgical tool inside of a patient during surgery is rare, but it does occasionally happen. One missed object could result in a lifetime of complications for a patient and expenses for both the patient and the hospital.
Here is what Wilson Kehoe Winingham thinks you should know about these unusual but dangerous medical malpractice cases.
In general, most foreign objects are discovered and removed fairly quickly. Any object used in surgery is at risk of going missing and being rediscovered inside of a patient, sometimes months or even years after the procedure. The most common object that gets left behind is a surgical sponge, but others include needles, broken drill bit fragments, scissors, clamps, towels, and scalpels.
The abdomen, pelvis, thoracic (chest) cavity and vagina are the most common places where these items are left behind. They may not be discovered until months or years later, which is why the discovery rule exception to Indiana’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases exists.
Keep this in mind if you get post-surgical symptoms checked out. If you think you have a case, get in touch with a medical malpractice attorney immediately.
A foreign object stuck inside of the body can cause very serious problems for a patient, including local, systematic inflammation, pain, infections, and lacerations. A post-surgery body is going to be more vulnerable to infections, adhesions, fistulas, obstructions, and other complications.
Sharp objects like scalpels could also cause lacerations of vital organs, the consequences of which can be long-term and even life-threatening.
Traditionally, surgical tools are counted before, during, and after surgery. There are even double and triple-checks in place. Some pieces of equipment, including sponges, can be detected through x-rays, bar codes, and radio frequency systems designed to ensure nothing gets left behind. There’s also the threat of medical malpractice lawsuits to keep physicians accountable.
So why do retained surgical objects still happen?
It helps to look at the circumstances under which retained surgical items often occur. Operating rooms are busy, chaotic places filled with people who are multitasking and under a time crunch. This is especially true for emergencies or other unexpected complications. The risk also increases in cases where more than one surgical team is involved in a procedure, or there’s a lot of blood loss. Object-counting procedures might also be skipped or rushed to limit the time a patient is under anesthesia.
This does not mean a physician and their surgical team shouldn’t exercise reasonable care. You are putting your life in their hands, and they have a standard of care to uphold. A surgeon has the duty to make sure all objects are accounted for and none are left behind.
If you were injured a retained surgical object, you likely have a medical malpractice case.
In the legal world, there is a concept called res ipsa loquitur—“the thing speaks for itself.” When a surgeon leaves something in your body after surgery, it is only there because someone was negligent. Medical malpractice attorneys, like the ones at WKW in Indianapolis, are here to hold doctors accountable for their actions, ensure mistakes don’t happen to other patients and fight for the compensation you deserve.
In the state of Indiana, you have two years from when you discovered the complication to file your lawsuit, so there’s not much time to pursue a medical malpractice case. For a free consultation about your medical malpractice case, call 317.920.6400 or use our online form.