Millions of people across the country enter the operating room each year, both for simple procedures and more complicated operations. While most expect to leave the OR in better shape than they entered, many do not anticipate leaving with a surgical souvenir that was mistakenly left inside their bodies. Although this may seem unheard of, at least 4,000 cases involving retained surgical items occur in the U.S. every year. Surgeons and other operating room staff may inadvertently leave a surgical sponge, or other piece of equipment behind in an operating site and suture before removing those items.
One of the most common items left behind in patients are surgical sponges. These gauze-like pads are used to soak up bodily fluids and keep the target site clean and visible. The problem is that once these sponges become soaked with blood and interstitial fluid, they are hard to see within the body cavity. Operating room nurses and technicians are supposed to keep an accurate count of surgical equipment before, during and after the procedure to ensure nothing is left behind. However, studies show that even when staff reports everything accounted for, it is often not and the patient may go home with an unintended item in his or her body.
Retained surgical items can cause massive infections and may require major surgery once the mistake is identified. One woman who had a hysterectomy, discovered four years later that a surgical sponge left in her body had adhered to her walls of the stomach and bladder, causing a serious infection. After extensive surgery, she now suffers from depression, anxiety and bowel problems.