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Retained Foreign Objects a Common Surgical Error

Last October, Nelson E. Bailey, a Florida judge, underwent surgery for diverticulitis at a West Palm Beach hospital. Though the surgery was expected to relieve pain in his stomach, the condition seemed to worsen after the procedure. According to an MSBNC report, it wasn’t until five months after the operation that doctors discovered why his condition did not improve.

After undergoing a subsequent surgery, doctors found a one square foot sponge that had been left inside Judge Bailey’s abdomen during the first surgery. While in his body, the sponge began to rot causing other issues with his large intestine, portions of which had to be removed.

Objects unintentionally left in patients after surgery are referred to as “retained foreign bodies.” According to the American College of Surgeons (ACS), incidents of sponges left in patients like Judge Bailey occur most frequently, though surgical instruments also account for some of the cases.

Though no data officially tracks the number of retained bodies, the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that the frequency of retained objects occurs once in every 8,000 to 1 in every 18,000 surgeries. This number translates into one incident per year at a major hospital. The ACS, however, notes that this estimate is based on claims data, meaning that some settlements are reached outside of the legal system resulting in numerous cases that go unaccounted.

The ACS report cites poor communication between personnel and faulty processes of care in the operating room as common causes of the problem. Poor communication can result from personnel changes during the procedure or doctors disregarding notice of an instrument miscount from staff. Faulty processes include failing to examine the wound prior to closure and incomplete, misread or inadequate intraoperative X-rays.

Unfortunately for Judge Bailey, the sponge was only one of his troubles. His doctors also prescribed the wrong medication after the surgery, causing his heart rate to increase, which nearly caused a heart attack. According to a Palm Beach Post report, the judge and the hospital recently reached a confidential settlement.

Cases involving a doctor’s or surgeon’s negligence are complex. If you suspect you have been the victim of medical malpractice, it is important to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

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