Standing Up For You

Retained surgical instruments can cause long-term damage

When patients enter the operating room, they put the trust in the hands of medical professionals to care for them and ensure they exit the OR safely. Yet, surgical professionals make mistakes more often than some may think. 

In the United States alone, more than 4,000 surgical errors occur each year, according to the National Library of Medicine. Least half of these cases cause serious, long-term effects. One of the most surprising operating room errors occurs when surgeons leave objects behind in surgical sites. 

What are retained surgical items?

Although surgical staff performs several counts and checks all surgical equipment before, during and after an operation, items may still get left behind. This is referred to as retained surgical items, and it happens in approximately 1 in every 10,000 procedures. The most common objects left behind are surgical sponges. 

Surgeons use these sponges to soak up blood and interstitial fluid from the area of operation, increasing their visibility of the target site. Yet, once these gauze-like sponges become soaked, they blend in with the surroundings, and can easily get lost. It is critical that surgeons account for every sponge they put into the patient. 

What are the effects?

When sponges or other objects are left inside a person for a long-period of time, they can cause serious infection, according to Live Science. In one case, a woman had three surgical sponges sutured up inside her for more than six years, causing extreme pain and bloating. When a doctor finally discovered the issue, the sponges had adhered to the outer tissue of the organs, and had formed a thick wall over the sponge. Surgeons may need to remove infected areas once the foreign object is found.