Objects left behind in a patient after surgery, or “retained surgical items” as they are called in the medical industry, should not be an issue with the high standards and advanced technology available today. However, thousands of patients have objects left behind in their bodies every year, with the surgical sponge being the most common.
A Kentucky nurse discovered a surgical sponge in her abdomen four years after undergoing a hysterectomy. The sponge had become attached to her bladder, stomach, and intestinal walls. The area became infected and a large segment of her intestine had to be removed. She continues to suffer with severe bowel issues, and unable to work or even leave the house on most days, she suffers with depression and anxiety.
Another Surgical Sponge
An Air Force Major underwent a cesarean section, an operation that should be routine. She was discharged from the hospital and went home, only to begin experiencing abdominal symptoms. Over the course of six weeks, her stomach grew to the size of a pregnant one and her bowels had shut down. The cause was determined to be a surgical sponge left behind that subsequently became entangled in her intestines and then became infected. The surgery to remove the sponge left her hospitalized for three weeks.
Two Foot Long Wire
A travel agent from Pennsylvania had a two foot long guide wire left behind after heart surgery. The wire was discovered six weeks after the initial procedure when it showed up on an x-ray. He had an additional seven days in the hospital following the removal of the wire, which had also caused a blood clot in his leg near the insertion point of the wire requiring him to remain on blood thinning medications for six months.
Two Surgical Clamps
A 59-year-old man had two surgical clamps left behind after surgery. The patient received intestinal surgery in 2000 and both clamps were left behind at the time of surgery. One clamp was found about 8 months after the operation and removed. The second was found later by doctors in a different hospital. The patient suffered from severe pain, multiple abscesses and septic shock which all led him to have a stroke.
A Seattle building maintenance technician underwent a complicated surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his stomach. A 13-inch retractor was left behind . Following the initial surgery, the patient complained of pain that was almost unbearable and was reassured by doctors that pain is a normal part of recovery. He suffered from digestive issues, and pain as the instrument poked him. It wasn’t discovered until almost two months after the surgery, after being ignored at a 30-day checkup with the surgeon.
How Does This Happen?
According to an article in the New York Times, the problem lies in the method used to prevent anything being left behind in a patient. Most operating rooms have a nurse designated to making sure everything is accounted for before the patient is closed. The busy nature of an operating room leads to the occasional miscount, and this can lead to objects being left behind in patients. New technologies have been developed to make it easier to count and ensure that all materials used during an operation are accounted for, but not many hospitals are using the new technologies, most citing expense as the primary reason.