A retained surgical instrument is any material used in a surgical procedure that inadvertently gets left behind. The material can range from a scalpel to towels, although the most frequently retained surgical instrument is a sponge. A retained sponge happens frequently enough that it actually has an official name – gossypiboma. This term also applies to a left towel, and an alternative term is textilioma.
There is no official term for a retained scalpel; indeed it seems highly unlikely that something like a scalpel can be left inside the body after surgery. But it actually happens more often than one would think. It is so much so that there have been considerable efforts made in improving the surgical process to prevent retained surgical instrument errors. Based on a recent study, it is estimated that retained surgical instrument occurs in 12.5% of all surgeries in the US.
This is perhaps not surprising considering that a minimum of 250 instruments are used in any given surgery. According to an article on the website of Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyers Crowe & Mulvey, LLP, there are a few common and preventable types of surgical errors that a patient may fall victim to. Retained surgical instrument is one of them and while it may be understandable, they are not excusable. The consequences of retained surgical instrument in the human body can range from the uncomfortable to the downright deadly, and will definitely lead eventually to injury and perhaps removal surgery. Some cases such as gossypiboma may not even be detected until years later. This has both health and financial costs to the patient.
Retained surgical instrument errors are clear examples of negligence on the part of the surgical team. If you or someone close to you find out that it has been done to you, consult immediately with a surgical errors lawyer to find out your legal options.