Texas residents may be surprised to learn that surgeons in the United States leave items inside the bodies of the patients they operate on thousands of times each year. These patients often suffer pain and digestive problems for months or even years before learning that a sponge, towel or surgical instrument lurking inside them is the cause of their discomfort. Others never find out what lies at the root of their persistent medical problems, and some patients even die as a result of this kind of surgical error.

Sponges are the items most frequently left inside patients during surgery because they soak up blood and can be very hard to spot even for a trained eye. Sponges rarely cause serious medical issues, but large surgical instruments left inside patients often do. A cancer patient at a hospital in Wisconsin was shocked to learn that his severe discomfort was being caused by a 13-inch long surgical retractor that had been left in his abdomen by an operating room team.

Most of these surgical errors can be put down to human error. Operating room staff are expected to keep accurate records of the instruments, sponges, needles and towels used during surgical procedures, but maintaining these counts can be difficult when operations do not go as expected or more than one surgeon is involved. Measures that could prevent this type of mistake include tagging sponges and other items with barcodes or radio frequencies.

Personal injury attorneys with experience in cases involving medical mistakes may advise patients who have suffered setbacks because of this kind of error to pursue civil remedies. Medical malpractice lawsuits can seem daunting because plaintiffs must not only prove that a mistake was made, but they must also establish that the error was the direct cause of their harm. However, this may be less of a challenge when items were left inside a patient who underwent surgery.