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Objects Left Behind

Risks Posed by Tools Left in Patients Post-Surgery

After surgery, we expect to be stitched up and sent to recover with careful, specific aftercare instructions. A clean recovery is the goal, without recurrence of the issue that required surgery in the first place. We want to return to our normal daily lives, and heal in a timely enough fashion to do so. Doctors and surgeons are held to that standard of care, both by the medical profession and the patient's own expectations. However, the quality of care can sometimes fall short of our expectations and needs, especially when surgeons are careless.

At Cherundolo Law Firm PLLC, we know how important a clean recovery is to you and your loved ones. We know that in the realm of surgery, it sadly isn't uncommon for surgical implements to be found in a patient after surgery. In fact, there are 4,500 to 6,000 incidents annually in the United States alone.

Almost 800 tools were found left in patients after their operations since 2005, according to a report from The Joint Commission. What are they, and what are the devastating medical consequences of forgotten surgical implements? And, just as importantly, who is being held accountable?

The Most Common Implements Left Inside the Human Body

It's a terrifying thought. After surgery, you could have scissors wandering around your insides, or even a surgical mask. The people that these incidents happen to often have to pay out of pocket costs for needed second surgeries, and can even die from infection or internal bleeding. How do surgeons let this happen? High pressure in the OR, emergency surgery or a change of operation plan may contribute. Even with precautions set in the OR to attempt to prevent "forgotten" implements, they still remain left behind. Towels soaked with blood may blend into a surgical site, and guidance wires are very thin and can be hard to see. What else is commonly left inside patients post-surgery?

  • Sponges
  • Scalpels
  • Scissors
  • Towels
  • Needles
  • Forceps
  • Tubes
  • Clamps
  • Tweezers

These incidents are most commonly attributed to human error, especially those involving with sponges and towels. Commonly found in the abdomen and chest cavity, both high bleeding areas, sponges and towels supposedly blend into the surgical site and despite precautions, an overworked OR team under stress may lose track of tools, leaving patients to deal with the consequences.


Caused by a Retained Foreign Object, this refers to gauze, cotton, or sponges that are left within a patient's body after a surgery. It is difficult to tell how frequently these events happen, due to possible underreporting. This can happen after any sort of operation, but is most common after vaginal delivery and abdominal surgery.

These objects can be noticed through various forms of imagery, or, in some cases the material will erupt through scar tissue. For patients who are recovering from abdominal surgery, symptoms may make themselves known in the form of nausea, vomiting, localized pain and fever. It's incredibly important that the right diagnosis be met, however, as extensive surgery will only add more financial, physical and mental trauma to the patient's burden. Gossypiboma is treatable, and if caught in time, most patients make a full and quick recovery. But too often, it goes untreated for years after the incident.

Internal Bleeding

The concept is simple: sharp objects left within the body of a patient are incredibly dangerous. At the beginning and end of every operation, an implement count is conducted, and a separate one for gauze. Unfocused minds and unreliable memories contribute to the loss of numbers and counts in this process, leaving the possibility of foreign object retention. Surgical tools can puncture organs within the body, causing internal bleeding and eventual death. Scalpels, scissors, forceps and clamps are tools that run an especially high risk of triggering internal bleeding through blunt force or puncture.

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These events can be prevented. Establishing stricter policies and keeping closer records of previous implement counts, providing specific training, and working to hold providers responsible for the adverse effects of surgical implement retention are all steps to take. If you or someone you know has suffered from a surgical tool present in their body post-surgery, contact us immediately. We know that the legal process can be incredibly complicated where medical malpractice is concerned, and we know how to confront the people responsible for your suffering.