Atlantans Suffer Pain and Infection Due To Retained Sponges and Instruments After Surgery

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As an Atlanta injury attorney, I have represented a number of people who have suffered injuries as a result of retained gauze, sponges, and instruments left in their bodies after surgery. In fact, my first case as a Plaintiff’s attorney involved the representation of a woman who had a sponge left in her abdomen after colon surgery. Unfortunately, she was forced to stay in the hospital for an extra month and suffered a punctured lung during the surgery to remove the retained sponge.

Retained surgical instruments are almost always the result of medical errors. In fact, within the medical community, retained sponges and instruments are considered “never events.” A “never event” is a medical error which should “never” occur (unless there is negligence). When a foreign object is left in the body, the body generally has one of two responses. First, the body may try to expel the object, thus creating an inflammatory response. Or, the body might encapsulate the object, which creates adhesions. Regardless, the patient is at highly increased risk for infection (sepsis) and a number of other dangerous complications. The Oregon Patient Safety Commission has a good article on the causes of, and dangers of, retained objects. And, this article has some interesting pictures (films) of retained objects in the body. Here is another good site to view a retained surgical sponge.

Numerous studies within medical literature show that emergency procedures, high body mass index, and intra-operative changes in surgical plans increase the risk of retained objects. Importantly, the increased risk does not justify the retention of a surgical sponge, gauze, or instrument. Nurses are generally required to perform a number of instrument/sponge counts before, during, and after the surgery. The obvious purpose of these counts is to ensure that the sponges and instruments used are all accounted for prior to closing the patient up and ending the procedure. The New England Journal of Medicine has a great article containing an in-depth study on retained foreign objects after surgery and the medical/legal consequences of this dangerous event.

This is one of those complications that you cannot plan for or guard against. The best course of action is to choose a good surgeon and ensure that your surgery takes place at a good, reputable hospital. If you have abnormal, lasting pain after surgery, do not hesitate to return to the doctor and insist upon a post-operative x-ray or film. Many surgical sponges contain fibers that are specially designed to appear on film and, of course, retained metal instruments will readily appear on x-ray.

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