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Retained Objects During Surgery

Updated August 23, 2020 | By Wilson Kehoe Winingham staff

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.

Commonly-Retained Objects

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 objects that get left behind in surgery include the following:

  • Surgical sponge
  • Needles
  • Broken drill bit fragments
  • Scissors
  • Clamps
  • Towels
  • 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.

Complications from Foreign Objects

A foreign object stuck inside of the body can cause very serious problems for a patient, including 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.

Why Surgical Objects Get Left Behind

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.

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, especially for emergencies or other unexpected complications. The risk also increases in cases where more than one surgical team is involved in a procedure or when 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.

These reasons do 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.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

When a surgeon leaves an object in your body after surgery, it is an indication of medical malpractice.

If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a retained surgical object, you are urged to contact the attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. An experienced Indianapolis medical malpractice lawyer at WKW can help you get the compensation you deserve. Call 317.920.6400 or fill out an online contact form for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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