Posted on 06/25/2021

What Happens After a Surgeon Leaves a Foreign Object Inside You?

What Happens After a Surgeon Leaves a Foreign Object Inside You?

Every year countless patients experience complications following a foreign object surgical error. This happens because the surgical team left a foreign item in a patient’s body after their surgery was complete. 

It might sound hard to believe, but it can happen. A recent Johns Hopkins University study found surgeons experience an “unintended retention of a foreign object” (URFO) inside a patient’s body almost 40 times a week.

Determining whether a URFO has been left behind following a surgery is not always easy. Needles and sponges, small pieces that have broken off larger objects or medical tools have all been found in patients. Still, other, larger medical instruments have also been left behind, causing significant pain and suffering for the patient. 

What Types of Foreign Objects Might Be Left Behind?

In almost every surgery, doctors and medical staff use a variety of medical tools and instruments for even the most minor or routine surgeries. Surgeries that are considered “major surgeries” such as an organ transplant can last multiple hours and can require using hundreds of instruments in an assortment of sizes. 

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Surgical teams are required to carefully track each of the items they use during the surgery. To ensure this is done accurately, a dedicated member of the surgical team, called a "circulating nurse," is present at the surgery. 

The circulating nurse doesn't participate in the actual surgery, instead, they stand aside watching the procedure. Their job is to accurately record all items used during the surgery and all the items removed after the procedure's conclusion. Any discrepancy between the number of items used and those removed requires an x-ray scan to look for URFOs.

The most common foreign object left behind following a surgical procedure is a sponge. Other items that a surgical team might leave inside a patient's body include: 

  • Clamps
  • Sponges
  • Gauze
  • Retractors
  • Scissors
  • Towels

What Are The Signs of a Foreign Object Surgical Error?

It's not uncommon after a surgical procedure to feel some degree of pain and soreness surrounding the surgical area. Depending on the type of medical procedure you have, the discomfort you experience may last anywhere from days to weeks. But when your pain and soreness fail to subside, after multiple weeks, you might be wondering whether a URFO has been left in your body.

Foreign objects left inside a patient after surgery can result in dangerous medical situations. Medical sponges or gauze can accumulate bacteria, often leading to serious infections that can spread faster and result in severe illness or potentially death.

Sharp or pointed foreign objects left inside a patient can lacerate organs or puncture tissues with devastating results. A foreign object that punctures an intestine can cause its contents to spill into the abdominal area, resulting in a potentially fatal infection. Other complications from URFOs can include:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Infection or internal abscess
  • The URFO can travel internally to another part of your body
  • Severe, recurring pain
  • Difficulty eating, breathing, or swallowing
  • Can lead to deadly infections or obstructions
  • The surgical incision starts to open, is bleeding, or otherwise discolored
  • The immediate area surrounding your incision feels hot, is swollen, or feels hard when pressed
  • Coughing up blood
  • Nausea or vomiting

These complications can have a life-altering impact or prove fatal for some patients. If a patient experiences a foreign object surgical error, they can, at a minimum, experience unnecessary pain and suffering. 

A patient may experience thousands of dollars in additional medical expenses, lost wages, or other financial damages in more severe instances. Foreign object surgical errors can often indicate negligence or medical malpractice

What Should You Do If You Suspect A Foreign Object Surgical Error?

If you or a loved one have had surgery and are experiencing pain, think you feel "something" inside, or if you have been diagnosed with an infection following a surgical procedure, a foreign object is a possibility.  

If you have concerns following your surgery, it's important that you do the following:

  • Get checked out by a doctor. If you feel uncomfortable returning to the same medical facility that performed your surgery, you can always go to a different doctor or hospital for another examination. 

Any doctor can request diagnostic procedures such as CT scans, X-Rays, or other imaging, to help identify whether the surgical team left a foreign object inside your body following surgery. You don't have to see the specific doctor that performed your surgery. 

It's also important to remember that not all foreign objects are noticeable immediately after surgery. Some URFOs can take several years after the surgery before you begin to experience pain or other distress. If you don't feel well, a second medical opinion is always a step in the right direction.

  • Get a copy of your medical records from the hospital or medical facility that performed your surgery. This is especially important if you are considering filing a foreign object surgical error medical malpractice lawsuit. Be sure to ask for everything relating to your surgery, including any tests your doctor prescribed and any diagnoses your surgeon made. Do not sign any waivers to receive your medical records without first consulting with your attorney. 
  • Talk with an experienced foreign object surgical error medical malpractice attorney. Medical malpractice cases are lengthy and complex, and for best results, it's important to have a law firm specializing in medical malpractice. 

The Medical Malpractice Team at Grover Lewis Johnson operates on 25 years of experience in medical malpractice in Michigan, a comprehensive understanding of medical malpractice laws, and a genuine concern for our clients. We want to help you get the proper compensation you deserve.

We are ready to find out more about your situation and go through all the information with you. We'll help you explore the options you have available and help you determine which course of action is right for you and your family. And because we work on a contingency fee basis, you don't need to worry about paying our fees until we win your case or reach a successful settlement.

Call us today and schedule a free no-obligation consultation.