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When items are left behind in surgical sites

When people enter the operating room to have a surgical procedure performed, they may not expect to leave with a piece of surgical equipment still inside of them. Surprisingly enough, however, this horrible type of medical error continues to occur despite new technologies designed to trace medical equipment during procedures. Out of an estimated 50 million people who have surgeries in the United States each year, approximately 4,082 people are victims of these ‘never events’, according to an article published in Surgery. These numbers may be underestimated, as some people may not know that they have surgical equipment left behind in their operating sites.

Surgical sponges are the most common items left behind. Surgeons use these gauze-like pads to soak up blood and other fluids in the operating site, enabling them to better see the operating site. Once the pads become saturated with fluids, however, they tend to blend in to the environment and can adhere to body organs. If the surgeon and other operating room staff do not have an accurate count of how many surgical sponges are being used during the procedure, they may inadvertently leave one behind.

Although a small sponge may not seem harmful when left within a body cavity, any foreign objects left inside the body can be deadly. It can cause massive infections and intense pain. In one case, it took just six weeks for a woman’s stomach to swell and bowels to shut down completely. When emergency room staff x-rayed her abdomen, they identified a surgical sponge which had been left there from a procedure. Emergency staff was forced to carefully detach the sponge from her infected intestine. 

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