Retained surgical objects pose a serious threat

Surgery of any magnitude can be a harrowing ordeal for many patients, especially considering the wide range of things that can go wrong. Unfortunately, adding to the already lengthy list of surgical nightmares is the risk of retained objects.

A retained object surgical error occurs when an instrument, sponge or other foreign material is left behind in a surgical site during a procedure. When this occurs, it can lead to a wide range of complications, including infection, internal bleeding and even death. According to a New York Times report on the topic, there are about 4,000 known cases of retained object surgical errors in the United States each year, or about two per year at a typical hospital.

Because retained surgical objects can cause symptoms that are easily mistaken for those of other medical conditions, they often go undetected for weeks, months or even years after surgery, thus allowing the condition to worsen over time. Even if they are discovered quickly, additional surgical procedures are often required to remove the retained object, thus exposing the patient to additional risks and prolonging his or her recovery.

Retained surgical sponges

The objects most commonly involved in cases of this nature are gauze surgical sponges, which are used to soak up blood in and around the surgery site. Because they blend in easily with bodily tissues and are often tucked away inside the surgical opening, these sponges are more easily overlooked than many other items during surgery.

While small cloth sponges may sound relatively innocuous when compared to scalpels or other surgical instrument, they can in fact cause catastrophic harm when left inside the body, which in some cases can result in permanent complications and even death. Because the soft, porous material of a sponge is much more hospitable to bacterial growth than other materials such as plastic or surgical steel, the risk of infection is especially high when sponges are left behind inside a surgical site.

Precautions are not always effective

Because surgical sponges are notoriously easy to lose track of during surgery, especially under emergency conditions, hospitals have policies in place to help ensure that every sponge used in a procedure is accounted for before the incision is sewn up. Typically, this involves counting the sponges as they are used and counting them again upon removal in order to determine that none are missing.

But while these precautions no doubt help prevent many such errors, the method is far from foolproof; in roughly four out of five cases, the sponges had all been accounted for by the surgical team.

Legal remedies for victims of medical malpractice

In Connecticut, the law provides a remedy for people who are harmed by surgical errors and other forms of medical negligence by allowing them to seek monetary damages for they harm they have suffered. Similar remedies are available to the surviving family members of those who die as a result of medical errors. If you or someone close to you has been harmed by an error or oversight in the medical setting, be sure to discuss your options with a medical malpractice attorney at your earliest opportunity.