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How Often Do Surgeons Mistakenly Leave Something Behind?

If a mechanic leaves a rag in the works of your vehicle’s motor, chances are you’d find out about it before you got it out on the road where something dangerous could happen. Unfortunately, the same can’t always be said if a surgeon leaves something behind in your body during an operation.

Doctors might not like being compared to auto mechanics, and perhaps they have a point. If a surgeon makes the medical mistake of leaving something inside your body, the repercussions are potentially more troublesome. The very least that may happen is that you’ll suffer an infection that requires more treatment. The worst case scenario is that you might die due to complications.

How often do such things really happen? Well, The Washington Post cites 2010 data from the National Center for Health Statistics that suggests that the occurrence of a “retained surgical item” happened once for every 5,500 surgeries that year. And it estimates that more than 51 million in-patient procedures were performed.

It’s not known how many operations might have been conducted in an outpatient setting in 2010, but federal statistics from 1996 estimated there were some 72 million that year, and the instances of such procedures have only increased since then.

A new study by the American College of Surgeons says the most common items left behind are surgical sponges. Those are the gauze squares used to mop up blood during a procedure. The reason they’re such a problem is that they’re easy to lose track of and because infection-causing bacteria tend to gravitate to them.

There is technology to electronically track each sponge, but not every hospital uses it. And studies show that even with the existing systems, some instances of retained material occur.

When medical mistakes do occur during surgery and they result in injury or death, it may warrant exploring your legal options for seeking compensation. A consultation with an attorney is then called for.