With the rising statistics of unintended retained foreign bodies, it is not unlikely that anyone who stumbles upon this post may have heard someone else’s story of having foreign objects left inside their bodies. There are existing guidelines for safe surgery and WHO (World Health Organization) even provided us with a checklist just in case your surgeon does not have a basic grasp of simple math – counting.
“During surgery, foreign objects are often placed in the patient’s body to help the patient. Those foreign objects may include forceps, clamps, sponges, plates, and screws. Some of the objects are intended to be promptly removed from the patient’s body, while others are intended to remain behind, for therapeutic benefit (e.g. screws and plates intended to hold a broken bone in place while it heals). But sometimes, objects without therapeutic value are mistakenly left behind, which can lead to infection, pain, and other complications. Retention of a foreign object without therapeutic value may give rise to a legal claim, but the time to act on such a claim may be very limited.”
– Attorney Malcolm P. McConnell III, Medical Malpractice Department Head Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen
Doctors, to be specific, took years of training to be as highly skilled as they are today. And considering that they, too, are humans, they are prone to commit mistakes on the operating table. But hey! We’re not talking about forgetting a wrench in your car engine; we’re dealing with human life. Here are the top 10 horrific cases of foreign bodies left inside a patient.
1. A 12-inch-long malleable retractor was left inside a man’s chest.
It’s normal, they said. It’s just part of the surgical recovery, they said.
Picture having a foot-long metal device stuck inside your body, pressing up and down against your chest and abdomen. Donald Church knows exactly how it felt to have a malleable retractor left inside him after being sewed up by the surgeons when he underwent a surgical removal of a large malignant tumor in 2000. Problems with bowel movement, recurrent poking and bulging of the instrument, and searing pain have triggered limited movement.
He thought he was dying because of the complications he experienced, until the doctors found out that all of these were due to an incorrect count of the instruments. And oh, this has caused trauma to him. Unless the procedure is videotaped, he will agree to go through another operation in the future.
2. A retained, large surgical sponge was mistaken for a tumor.
Just when you thought you are having another baby, think again.
A case of gossypiboma, or retained surgical sponge following a Caesarean section operation on a 28-year-old woman, was misdiagnosed for an ovarian tumor. Four weeks after giving birth, the woman sought consultation for the strange stomach pain she has been feeling. No abnormalities were seen in her ultrasound, thus, she was sent home thinking that everything’s completely normal.
The stomach pain aggravated six months later and became persistent which urged her to get examined for the second time around. This time, the mass in her stomach was clearly evident on the ultrasound image. The huge mass affected at least three feet of the patient’s small intestine and right colon, along with large local lymph nodes. An immediate removal of the alleged “tumor” was performed including resection of her small intestine and right colon.
So, to have a clear image of the detached mass, the surgeons had cut it open. Approximately two liters of oozing yellowish pus and fluid plus a surgical souvenir – a large surgical sponge – were found in an inflamed cavity wall.
Every baby is a blessing. But when you carry another load of hefty mass in your tummy for the next couple of months after childbirth? That sounds worrisome. Seek professional examination immediately or risk another length of your intestines.
3. A surgical swab was stuck on a woman’s small intestine for nine years.
Surgical swabs are way deadlier than the poison darts.
Tiny as it may seem, the surgical swab can be more detrimental in the hands of a surgeon. Due to its size, the swab can get stuck and bore its way to other areas in the abdomen. In the case of the 37-year-old female, a diagnostic radiograph result suggested the presence of the retained swab enclosed in a fibrous capsule-like appearance. It was lodged and adherent to the mesentery of the ileum. It was fortunate of her to not have periods of gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal distention, constipation, as well as fever and weight loss. However, the patient had a history of intermittent, vague, central abdominal pain which lasted for five months. A palpable, movable mass was also noted in her right hip area.
Collection of a detailed past medical history is crucial during assessment. Previous surgeries are also considered in the differential diagnosis of the patient. It was known that the female patient had a laparotomy procedure for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy nine years ago from the onset of the consistent pain.
The next time your surgeon wants to play darts on you, make sure he doesn’t use a surgical swab. Or at least his team should know how to count swabs and use other measures to prevent retention of foreign bodies.
4. A man lost his job because a 2-foot-long guide wire was left inside his body.
A guide wire may cost you your job. That’s how relevant it is.
Donald Gable, a 57-year old travel agent, lost his job because of a 2-foot long guide wire retained in his body after he received a cardiac catheterization in 2000. The tip of the wire started from his groin reaching up to his upper chest. The guide wire was used to evaluate the flow of blood. It was supposedly a successful heart care after a quadruple bypass for blockage reversal, but an accidental retention of the guide wire happened.
What’s even frustrating about it is that the hospital cannot explain how the doctors did not notice a long wire left inside him. In addition, the patient claimed they had checked the x-rays six times without even spotting the wire. It was only during a regular follow-up check-up when a doctor discovered that a guide wire was stuck inside him.
Gable was roaming around the city for six weeks fully unaware of what he carried inside him. Upon the discovery, he spent another seven days of hospital confinement for the removal of the wire. According to him, the thing could have punctured a vein and made him bleed to death. The only complication he had was the development of blood clot in his leg near the area where the wire was inserted. As acknowledged by the hospital, blood clot is a known effect of bypass surgery, so he had to take a blood thinner for another six months.
It was a horrible incident that he needed to give up his job as a travel agent because of the medical advice they had given him. He can no longer fly due to increased chances of blood clots. It did not just cost his job. He lost the wanderlust in him.
5. A surgical clamp was trapped inside a man’s abdomen… twice!
Not one, but two accounts of surgical clamp found inside the body of one patient. Was this a coincidence?
A single incident of an RFB (Retained Foreign Body) is already stressful. What more when you experienced it the second time? Embedded in a 59-year old male patient was a surgical clamp with a length of six inches. The said patient had already undergone several surgeries in his lifetime which made it difficult for the doctors to identify how long has the clamp been inside this man.
The man sought professional advice with chief complaints of nausea and mild abdominal pain. The source was a metal clamp trapped in his abdomen behind the liver. It’s even appalling because this was the second clamp that was stuck in the man’s body as far as his medical record is concerned.
The first clamp was left after an intestinal operation was performed in another hospital in the year 2000. It resulted to an infection and eight months later, the clamp was removed by the surgeon who left it. On the other hand, the second clamp was likely left behind when the first one was found.
At this point, I bet your head is filled with swear words because of the negligence or malpractice exercised by the surgeon. Let’s give the medical team the benefit of the doubt. Probably they did count the instruments. They just forgot to include the retrieved clamp in their count. Oops!
6. An Asepto bulb was left inside a woman’s vagina.
Vaginas do not only exist to receive the penis, but Asepto bulb as well. Wait, what?
For the first five examples, we thought that RFBs only happen to major surgeries. However, the story of the retained Asepto bulb proved that our hypothesis is not true. Even minimally invasive procedures can result to more complicated health problems.
A female patient presented with severe and chronic pelvic pain underwent a robot-assisted surgery where the doctors had to remove her uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, including her appendix. After the uterus and cervix were detached transvaginally, an Asepto bulb (without its syringe) was inserted into the vagina with a trocar (a three-sided cutting point enclosed in a tube) to gain access to the patient’s abdomen. After complete counting of the instruments, the robot was removed and the vaginal cuff was closed.
On the fourth day after discharge, the woman returned to the hospital with complaints of fever, chills, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Other laboratory tests were suggestive of a kidney infection or pyelonephritis but a CT scan result revealed a ring-like object in the vagina which they first thought as contraception. Upon vaginal examination, the Asepto bulb was discovered inside the patient’s vagina. It was removed and she was sent home with an antibiotic prescription.
But it didn’t end there. The 33-year old female went back the following day with nausea and vomiting. The patient cannot at all tolerate oral intake. This woman suffered from a series of unfortunate events. Due to the vaginal RFB that added pressure to the bladder neck and caused partial bladder obstruction, the patient had urinary tract infection; hence, a final diagnosis of post-operative ileus, or malfunction of the intestinal motility after surgery.
7. A woman passed out one grip of the surgical forceps left inside her.
Finding the fragments of retained surgical equipment is like completing the puzzle pieces – one part found in the stool, the other still in the colon.
It all started with a hydatid cyst in a 36-year old female patient’s liver. She was operated and after almost three years, she discovered that the surgical forceps they used during the surgery has been lurking inside her body for years. She passed out one grip of the metal equipment through her stool while she was defecating. Oh, her stool was a blessing in disguise!
Although the woman has been suffering from pain for the past three years, she just brushed it off. Finally, she decided to visit the hospital after three years of abdominal and pelvic pain. A radiological imaging of her abdomen was done to confirm the presence of the surgical instrument. Luckily, during the removal of the forceps, no signs of pathologic reaction were evident inside her abdomen. The physicians understood that the instrument might have migrated to the colon.
Because of the prolonged tenure of the “single-gripped” forceps in the transverse colon, it has already corroded and turned black in color.
8. The x-ray machine kept beeping when it detected a pair of scissors inside a woman’s abdomen.
If a pair of scissors was a baby, this mother could have already given birth to five children.
If not for the treatment of her uterine cancer, a Turkish woman would not have undergone a major surgery back in 2010. She has been complaining of searing pain in her stomach and abdomen for five years but doctors who examined her told her that it was part of the recuperation process. They could not pinpoint the exact cause of the vague symptom. She then decided to seek a second opinion in a different hospital where it was validated that she had an inflammation due to the scissors found in her abdomen.
The x-ray machine kept on beeping when it detected a presence of metal which they first assumed to be in the patient’s pocket. Later they realized that it wasn’t in her pocket, it’s inside her body.
9. A 4-inch knife was inside a man’s head for four years.
You might have heard of a worm living inside your head. How about a 10-cm long blade?
Not all retained foreign bodies are due to a bungling surgeon who sewed a body part and left an item inadvertently. Some foreign bodies had their fair share of history.
Li Fu, a 37-year old Chinese resident was stabbed in the head with a 4-inch knife blade in an armed robbery that transpired in 2006. His injuries were treated but the stabbed knife was overlooked. The Chinese man had been complaining of severe headaches to the doctors. However, it seemed that they couldn’t explain the reason to him as it took them four years to determine the root cause of the chronic migraine.
Finally, the doctors took a radiograph image of his skull. To their surprise, they found the blade embedded in his skull. Li Fu immediately underwent surgery to remove the sharp object in his head.
Doctor-patient communication is really vital in dealing with patient’s medical conditions, because a poor medical assessment may lead to negligence.
10. A pair of surgical forceps was left inside a woman’s stomach following a tummy tuck.
A metal tip of forceps poking out of the belly button. How’s that?
Aesthetic procedures and cosmetic surgeons have been in demand nowadays. If you’re wishing for a flat stomach, be careful what you wish for because you might just get it – with a metal freebie.
A French woman, who dreamed of having a flat, taut stomach after two pregnancies, got her worst nightmare after receiving a tummy tuck operation. Her stomach cramps started after her first few post-operative days. She was bothered by the severe pain which prompted her to seek medical attention. But the surgeon deflected her complaint and instead told her that it was normal after the abdominoplasty procedure.
After five months, she was finally convinced that the cause of her stomach pain was something else, it turns out, surgical forceps were left in her stomach after the operation. She began coughing hard which probably put too much pressure in her belly dislodging the metal item and protruding in her navel. The x-ray result backed up the discovery of the woman.
What’s even worse than that is dealing with a surgeon who was not apologetic for his own malpractice. The safety of the patient should always be his priority. But instead of doing that, he delayed the removal of the item. The urgent operation was on Friday, but the doctor told the French woman to wait until Monday. He even offered that the removal would be free of charge as a Valentine’s Day present to her.
Featured photo credit: Fox News via a57.foxnews.com