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How often are surgical objects left inside patients?

Remember that commercial in which surgeons are apologizing to a patient for leaving a cell phone inside him? It kind of funny, right? It might surprise Texans to learn that there are thousands of similar incidents each year. They may not involve cell phones, but they do involve objects that certainly do not belong there.

ThoughtCo. reports that there are between 4,500 and 6,000 such surgical mishaps annually in the U.S. While many of the objects are surgical sponges, there are a variety of other items included in the list, ranging from scalpels, needles and tweezers to surgical gloves and masks. Some of the objects are surprisingly large, including:

  •          6-inch metal clamp
  •          13-inch retractor
  •          Needles and surgical scissors
  •          Gloves, masks and towels
  •          Forceps and tubes

To many, it may be astounding that such errors occur at all. However, it is easier to understand when you consider that surgeons may use up to 250 different tools during some operations, making it hard to keep track of all of them. Sponges are actually placed in the surgical opening to soak up blood and make it easier for the surgeon to work. They easily blend in with tissues and organs and are hard to spot.

Sometimes, the mistake is harmless. Other times, it is fatal. Some people may not realize something is wrong for several months or even years, but the danger to them is serious. Sponges and surgical tools can cause infection, sharp pains, problems with the digestive system, internal bleeding, organ damage and more.

The medical industry is addressing the problem with new, sponge-tracking technologies which hospitals report has resulted in a great reduction in the number of such errors. Unfortunately, even these new methods are open to human error, which includes the individual adoption of the technologies and correct use of it.

This article, while including important information about surgical errors, is general in nature. It should not replace legal counsel.

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