Retained surgical sponges: Are you a victim?

Retained sponges left after a surgery can cause permanent damage and suffering to victims.

As medical advances continue to be made, people in Maryville are able to go through a surgery with minimal concerns. Surgical procedures have become much more complicated though, and require far more surgical tools then they used to. This has led to a widespread problem where instruments and other items, such as surgical sponges and towels, are left behind after the surgery is completed.

These errors are referred to as "never events" according to Scientific American. Every week, it is estimated that 39 patients in the U.S. are the victims of a never event. This adds up to an annual count of more than 4,000 people. This sort of surgical error is one that should, by all accounts, simply not happen and yet it does every day. USA Today points out that the majority of never events involves retained surgical sponges, at 70 percent.

Symptoms of a retained sponge

It can take months or even years for people to start experiencing problems from a retained sponge. During this time, it is not uncommon for the sponge to become entangled with body tissue and attached to other organs. This can cause symptoms that include the following:

  • Digestive problems
  • Pain in the abdominal area
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling in the abdominal region
  • Fever

In many cases, the foreign object has created permanent damage to the body, leaving victims struggling with physical scarring, continuous pain, mental and emotional anguish, and the need for continued treatment and medical care.

Manual counting mistakes

The human body contains a lot of fluid and this can make it hard for surgeons to see what they are doing. To create a better operating environment, surgical teams use sponges to soak up these fluids but it takes a lot of them. In an average surgery, medical staff may use dozens of these sponges and according to the New York Times, they often rely on a manual count to make sure they are all removed from the surgery site.

The problem with this method is that nurses may get distracted by activity going on around them and lose count. An additional problem is the fact that when the sponges soak up the blood and other fluids, they often resemble body tissue so it is difficult for medical staff to spot them. Studies conducted on manual count effectiveness indicate that between 30 and 40 percent of the time, the count failed to reveal a missing sponge.

Hospitals ignore technology fix

To address the problem, technology companies have created systems where sponges are embedded with a tracking device. A scanner can then be used to detect the presence of any sponges left behind before the surgeon closes the site. One hospital that installed a tracking system five years ago, has not had one retained sponge case since. Yet, despite the minimal cost added to each surgery to have this system, over 80 percent of American hospitals continue to rely on the manual count method.

Mistakes made during a surgical procedure are especially damaging because they can leave victims unable to work or enjoy life to the fullest. When people in Tennessee have been injured because of a hospital's negligence, they may find it helpful to meet with a medical malpractice attorney.