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Did you leave your last surgery with a little something extra?

Unless you're the recipient of an organ transplant or a pacemaker, you likely left the operating room expecting to have something repaired or removed. You probably didn't anticipate leaving with something extra and unsuspected. Yet for thousands of patients every year, this is the reality. Surgeons and their assistants fail to follow basic established protocols and carelessly leave foreign objects inside a patient's body following an operation.

Perhaps worse yet, many individuals don't even find out that their health care provider left a tool or surgical item inside them until it's too late and they begin experiencing serious negative consequences to their health. So if you or a loved one have an upcoming surgery in Indiana – or recently underwent an operation -- just how concerned should you be?

Retained Surgical Items

The preferred term for an object left inside a patient's body is retained surgical item (RSI). There is no end to the list of items surgeons or surgical assistants have accidentally sewn inside their patients, but some of the more common objects include:

  • Sponges
  • Towels
  • Swabs
  • Gauze
  • Needles
  • Scalpels
  • Forceps
  • Scissors
  • Cotton balls

Additionally, device fragments – pieces of objects, such as a broken screw – are also a concern and can result in the same types of serious health problems as other RSIs, such as:

  • Severe infection
  • Loss of function
  • Perforation and obstruction of blood vessels
  • Emotional harm
  • Death

Even in a best-case scenario where another doctor discovers the mistake in time to prevent permanent damage or death, the patient still ends up facing additional surgeries to remove the RSI, as most often, surgeons carelessly leave these items in places where they can potentially do extensive internal damage. The locations of RSIs could be literally anywhere within the body but they most frequently include:

  • Pelvis
  • Abdomen
  • Vagina
  • Chest

The subsequent surgeries to remove the RSIs in turn result in more time missed at work, expensive follow-up treatments, emotional and mental anguish, pain during the recovery period and more. Again, these are best-scenarios; sometimes, patients may suffer through pain and disabilities for years as a result of undiagnosed RSIs, uncertain of the source of their symptoms. Worse, though, is when the health care system fails completely, and no one discovers the RSI is in time to prevent lasting injury or even death.

So just how concerned should you be?

Well, the numbers aren't reassuring, with an overall estimation of over 4,000 RSIs per year, and that's only for the instances that are officially documented and reported. Additionally, the definition of RSIs can vary, and when you take into account the number of patients who could potentially be walking around with an RSI right now and suffering through the symptoms without knowing the cause, the number is likely much higher.

The good news is that if you were a victim of such an egregious medical error, there are legal resources in the Indianapolis area who have experience in these types of cases. With a knowledgeable professional to fight for just compensation on your behalf, you can focus your efforts on what really matters: recovering your health.

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