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When a Medical Instrument Goes Missing


Medical errors rank behind heart disease and cancer as the third leading cause of death in the U.S., Johns Hopkins researchers say.

Have you seen that Snickers commercial? That one where a nurse’s phone is left inside the patient after surgery? Although this commercial makes light of the matter, losing a medical instrument during a surgery can lead to unnecessary pain, distress, even death. The last thing you should be thinking of when going under the knife is, what if something gets left behind.

The Odds

The chances of this happening are slim, but it is still a concerning possibility, 1 in every 5,500 to 7,000 surgeries to be exact. Surgical instruments left behind range from pieces of an instrument or needle to sponges to whole instruments. If this happens it can lead to another operation to remove the medical instrument, infection, and other complications. A 2014 Study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons indicated death was a result in 2% of the cases.

How Long Until a Medical Instrument is Found & Removed? 

It Could Take Years

A woman in Japan went to a primary care clinic complaining of bloating, which she experienced for 3 years. Come to discover two sponges had attached to a layer of tissue from a C-section surgery. The woman had no surgery except for two C-sections, 9 and 6 years prior. It is unclear which delivery the sponges came from. The woman was released from the hospital 5 days later as her symptoms had resolved.

Or A Month

A woman had surgery to remove her cervix, within days the patient experienced pelvic pain, painful urination, chills, and fatigue.  She returned to the doctor a month later, and he discovered that a 2×2 inch piece of gauze was not removed from her vagina. Later, the woman was diagnosed with pelvic incisional cellulitis and suffered delayed healing because of the sponges.

Or Never

A man from Tennessee had open heart surgery, a needle was left behind. The Surgeon noticed there was a surgical needle missing after the chest was closed and the sternum was wired shut.  An X-ray showed the location of the needle, leading the Surgeon to reopen the patient after an already 9-hour surgery.  3 hours later, it is unclear if the needle couldn’t be found or could not be removed for another reason. About a month later, the man passed away. The needle then was removed during the autopsy. The man’s health steadily decreased after the needle was lost in his body.

George Tait Law

Multiple complications can occur when medical instruments are left inside a patient. The aftermath can be devasting, our attorneys at George Tait law have years of experience and can help you navigate through cases caused from medical malpractice. Call us today.

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