to remove surgical instruments at the end of a procedure is
a more common occurrence than one might suspect. A recent
study reports that this may occur in as frequent as 1 out
of every 100 cases or as few as 1 out of ever 5000 cases of
surgery. Surgical sponges are not the only items which are
left following a procedure. Needles, knife blades, safety
pins, clips, electrosurgical adapters, cotton and gauze and
other items have all been reportedly left inside patients
following a surgery.
Surgeons and nurses typically rely upon the practice of counting
the sponges and needles used during a procedure before closing
up the patient to ensure that all such items are accounted
for. However, some surgeries can involve the use of as many
as 600 sponges. Obviously, that makes the task of counting
such items particularly more difficult. This process gets
potentially more complicated because the surgical nurses usually
perform the counts, not the surgeons who are actually using
The process by which counts are performed is not standardized
by the Joint Commission on Accreditation for Healthcare Organizations
(JCAHO). Individual hospital policies may vary widely on their
instrument counting procedures. Even when counts are performed,
they are frequently abbreviated in emergency or transvaginal
In recent years, surgical sponges have been imbedded with
a radio-opaque strip which can easily be seen by an x-ray.
Some hospitals routinely perform portable x-rays in the operating
room before completing the procedure to ensure no sponges
have been retained. Newer technology includes the use of a
chip imbedded into a sponge which transmits a signal to a
receiver. This is also used in the operating room and makes
the use of an x-ray (and its potentially damaging effects)
unnecessary. However, these new sponges are expensive and
raise a whole new set of issues if it fails to perform correctly.
Moreover, they are not required and not used in every hospital.
Once symptoms raise suspicion of a retained foreign object,
an x-ray, CT scan or other radiographic type procedure will
usually confirm the presence of such an object. Then, the
patient is usually taken back to surgery to have the object
removed. Of course, this is usually done under a general anesthesia
thus exposing the patient to another potential risk of death
Most states extend their statues of limitations where a
foreign body is left in someone for a period of time after
discovery of the foreign body. Louisiana does not extend its
statue of limitations and sets and absolute maximum time limit
of three years from the date the sponge is negligently left
inside a patient. This holds true even if the foreign body
is not discovered until more than three years after it was
left in the patient. This may present an extreme case of injustice
from a clearly negligent act.
If you or someone you know may be the victim of a retained
foreign body, contact us toll free at 1-866-321-1580 for a
free consultation by one of our experienced surgeons or
click here for a Free Case
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