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What happens when surgical instruments are left behind?

When you get wheeled into the operating room to have a procedure performed, you put your life in the hands of the surgical professionals who are taking care of you. Although nurses and physicians are some of the most trusted professionals in the nation, they are human and can make mistakes. Surgical errors made by medical professionals, however, have the potential to cause long-term damage and may even kill unsuspecting patients. One of the most surprising errors involves medical equipment being left behind in a patient’s surgical site.

According to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, foreign objects are left behind in patient surgical sites at least 39 times a week. One of the most common items left behind are surgical sponges, which are used to soak up interstitial fluid and blood around the surgical site. Once the sponges become soaked with fluid, they often become hard to see within the open cavity. In order to prevent a sponge from becoming lost within the site, surgical technicians are required to count all of the equipment being used at certain points during the procedure. In some cases, however, sponges have been left behind inside patients even when surgical technicians reported that all equipment had been accounted for. 

In one case, a woman who had a surgical procedure performed a few years prior, started having sharp abdominal pains. When she went in to be checked, medical professionals found a surgical sponge that had been left behind during the procedure. At this point, it had adhered to her organs and caused a major infection, which could have taken her life. 

This information is intended to educate and should not be taken as legal advice.



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