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Items Left Inside People After Surgery: Just How Common is This Terrifying Ordeal, and How Can You A

"It's a real blemish on the surgeon-both psychologically and on his career-to have it happen to them," said Terry Canale, MD, past president of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. What he's referring to is surgeons accidentally leaving objects inside a patient after surgery.

X-ray of Surgical Object

This x-ray shows a 13-inch long surgical retractor that was left inside a man's body during an operation to remove a tumor. The device was later removed when the man complained of pain after the initial surgery.

This occurrence, as horrific as it may sound, does happen, and more often than you may think. General surgeon Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital even conducted a study on the topic that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. His findings? About 1,500 people get objects left inside them after surgery every year in the United States.

In context, the problem is relatively rare given that about 28.4 million inpatient operations are performed in the United States each year. Yet this is no consolation for the people who've had it happen to them.

One woman had a piece of a fetal heart monitor left inside her abdomen after a cesarean section. Other surgery objects "left inside" include a seven-inch clamp left inside a man after abdominal surgery and a 13-inch retractor left inside another man's body.

Out of the 54 patients in the study who had filed malpractice claims, a total of 61 "foreign objects" were found. The most commonly "left inside" object? Sponges. Here's a further breakdown of what the researchers found:

  • 37 patients had sponges in them

  • 4 patients had clamps

  • 13 patients had other instruments including retractors and electrodes

Patients typically required a second surgery to remove the objects, which could cause tears, obstructions, infections or other complications. The objects can be left in the abdomen, pelvis, chest, thorax, vagina, spinal canal, face, brain, extremities or other body areas.

Surgical Sponge

Surgical sponges like these are the most common object left inside patients. During surgery, the sponges fill up with blood and can resemble parts of the body.

What Increases Your Risk of Having an Object Left Inside?

It's instinctual to want to blame the surgeon for not being careful in these situations, but according to Dr. Gawande, "Our study really showed it isn't negligence, and a punishment approach is not likely to work [to prevent future cases]. What we found were the same constellation of events and conditions that led to these errors ... This happens despite teams following proper procedures."

Not surprisingly, having an emergency surgery greatly increases the risk for leaving a foreign body in a patient-by 900 percent! Other unexpected changes during a procedure increase the risk by 400 percent and being overweight or obese is also a risk factor.

How to Avoid Taking a Piece of Your Surgery Home With You

This is the last thing that a person going into surgery wants to, or should have to, think about, but taking a couple of precautions may make a difference.

  1. Specifically instruct your surgeons and attendants that, "I have heard objects are sometimes left inside patients during surgery and I want you to please ensure nothing is left inside me." By simply putting this notion in their heads-something they likely don't hear everyday-they may be more conscious of it when stitching up. You can also ask a friend or loved one to be present as much as possible, and have them remind the staff to please be careful in this (and all other) regards.

  2. Find out if "sponge counts" are standard practice at the institution where your surgery is being performed-they should be! Sponges can be especially problematic because once they fill with blood they resemble parts of the body. Said Dr. Canale, "In our institution, if the sponge count is incorrect or if they can't find an instrument, an x-ray is automatic."

  3. Build your immune system to lessen your risk of needing surgery in the first place. This won't guarantee that you'll never need an operation, but taking preventive health measures to reduce your risk of diseases that require surgery is a smart thing to do.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Disease and Surgery

Tactic 1: Build Your Immune System:

Following a few key strategies can go a long way toward boosting your immune system to help you avoid disease, thereby greatly reducing the likelihood of ever requiring surgery. Try these out for starters:

Want to Avoid Going Under the Knife? Boost Your Immune System With Antioxidants!

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Tactic 2: Reduce the Likelihood of Experiencing Physical Accidents

You cannot completely avoid accidents, just as you cannot completely avoid illness. But just as you can greatly reduce the likelihood of illness, you can greatly reduce the chances of accidents - especially serious accidents - by understanding how to do so and taking care to do so.

Greatly reducing the likelihood of serious accidents, of course, greatly reduces the chances of ever requiring surgery.

Your free subscription to the "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter - now the #1 most subscribed to and read wellness and safety e-newsletter on the Web - provides you ongoing expert advice to help you achieve health, prosperity, strong relationships ... and to help you and your loved ones avoid serious accidents.

So if you aren't subscribed, subscribe for free now, and if you haven't already had a chance, check out just a sampling of personal safety articles from recent newsletter editions:

Dog Bites, a Shocking U.S. Epidemic (Especially Among Kids):
How to Avoid Getting Bitten, What to Do If Attacked

The 6 Most Dangerous Appliances in Your House

The Safest and the Most Dangerous Cars and Trucks for 2005

The Ten Most Common Poisons Among Kids

The Health Dangers of Phenols Found in Common Household Cleaners

Extension Cords are Far More Dangerous Than Many Realize:
Three Important Reasons to Check Your Cords Today

American Medical News

American Medical Network

BBC News

To get more information about this and other highly important topics, sign up for your free subscription to our weekly "Be Safe, Live Long & Prosper" e-newsletter.

With every issue of the free newsletter, you’ll get access to the insights, products, services, and more that can truly improve your well-being, peace of mind, and therefore your life!

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