As patients, we trust surgeons to care for us and help treat the conditions or disease we are suffering under. However, mums, did you know that it’s possible that things left in body after surgery can happen, with possibly serious health consequences?
Two recent mum experiences highlight the very real possibility of these medical problems — and the problems they can bring.
Surgical mistakes can happen anywhere…
Recently, a young mum found out the the effects of things left in body after surgery — except in her case, it was minor surgery, likely a episiotomy.
Seventeen-year-old Tan, a young mum from Thailand, gave birth naturally to her first child on 18 June 2018. There were no complications: she was allowed to leave after just three days, but did note that the wound from the episiotomy, was painful.
She paid no notice, thinking that all mums have some pain after childbirth. Even after a doctor’s consultation, she was only given pills to ease the pain.
However, it was only on 28 August 2018 – two months after her surgery – that she discovered the horrifying truth in the most gruesome way.
As reported in The Phuket News, she explains, “On Tuesday (Aug 28), the pain was so bad I could not stand or sit. I felt like there was something in my uterus. I went into bathroom and I found a piece of gauze in there. It was black and smelly.”
We are assuming that the gauze emerged from her vagina as she went to the bathroom. The young mum returned to the hospital within the day for an examination. The doctors prescribed her antibiotic medication and assured her that her uterus was free of anything else.
“The doctor forgot gauze inside my uterus for over two months. How lucky that my wound isn’t infected,” she writes in her post above. Tan also warns other women about the possibility of such mistakes and recommended them to pick a reputable hospital before giving birth.
On 30th August 2018, the Phuket Provincial Health Office officially apologized to Tan about her ordeal. Dr. Jirapan Taepan, the health office’s chief, also admitted the surgical blunder which happened at a government hospital, and that Tan will be reimbursed for her trouble.
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Perhaps more common than granted?
However, medical errors can also occur in hospitals in developed countries, too.
Six months ago, a 42-year-old woman in Japan also faced a similar issue. After consulting a clinic for bloating that had persisted for three years, doctors used a CT scan to find out the issue.
They discovered that there were two masses in her abdomen. It was only after another surgery to remove these masses that doctors realised that it was a surgical sponge – another one of the things left in the body after surgery.
These doctors penned their results in a report in the New England Journal of Medicine. They deduced that the sponges were likely left behind from a cesarean section.
The woman had two sections before – one in 2012, and the other in 2009 – meaning that the sponge could have been left inside her for at least six years. Dr Takeshi Kondo, the chief author of the report, said that the woman did not have any other abdominal or pelvic surgeries.
Thankfully, once the sponges were removed, the 42-year-old’s symptoms eased. She was allowed to leave the hospital after five days.
Mums from a forum site have also expressed their horrifying experiences. One mum, adianlahni, said that she also experienced something similar in 2009, but even two years on, she’s “still in pain, and can’t have intercourse because of the damage from the sponges that were in my body for 7 weeks. Sitting is uncomfortable and my vagina is sore all the time.“
Even after consulting multiple gynecologists and being prescribed antibiotics, her infection still hasn’t gone away.
Things left in body after surgery: What you should know
Rare, but more likely in gyneocological surgeries
A review conducted in 2013 found that these events tend to be rare. Things left in body after surgery tend to happen between 1 in 5,500 operations to 1 in 18,760 operations. However, unlike other surgeries, gynecological surgeries carry a higher risk of ending with things left in body after surgery.
Dr. Fizan Abdullah, a pediatric surgeon, explains why: body parts around the pelvis are tougher to reach and have small hollow spaces where it’s much easier for a small or spongy items to get stuck.
Symptoms of things left in body after surgery
- pain in the surgical area that could flare up or be persistent.
- really painful headaches or leg pain
- discomfort and bloating
- Faecal matter that looks black, bloody, or tar-like.
- Feeling constipated or finding it hard to urinate, possibly meaning a blockage.
- Coughing or vomiting blood.
- An Abscess or fistula growing
- Struggling with basic movements such as breathing, swallowing, or eating.
- Liquid streaks near or something seeping from the surgical wound.
- Not feeling better after the surgery, such as declining weakness, fatigue and pain.
- Swollen lymph nodes – especially swollen areas near the the armpits, groin, and neck.
- Signs that an infection has occurred, such as:
- Feeling feverish
- Pus seeping
- The surgical wound starts to tear or become undone.
Note that the object itself presents a danger — it doesn’t matter if it’s a fluffy sponge or a needle. In fact, sponges or gauzes can cause deadly infections. Do remember that even simple or minor surgeries may risk things left in body after surgery.
Effects of things left in body after surgery
Some good news: preventive methods
Traditionally, medial personnel prevented these accidents by counting the objects they use during surgery. But this is not always practical due to the large number of items used in a typical surgery.
Thankfully, hospitals are using two new ways to prevent accidents from happening again by using:
- radiofrequency tagging to find out if sponges were left in patient’s bodies. This cost-effective method works as a microchip woven into the it can be located using a wand or mat after the surgery to uncover any things left in the body after surgery.
- bar-codes. By bar-coding sponges and scanning them during the surgery, medical staff can keep count of the number of sponges used. Once the surgery is done, these sponges can be scanned again to be sure that there are no differences.