Any item inadvertently left behind in a patient after surgery is called a “retained surgical instrument.” Retained surgical instruments can range from having no effect to causing physical trauma and even death. In addition, they often result in additional surgeries and medical costs.

Leaving tools in a patient’s body after surgery may sound like a very obvious mistake, but the truth is more complicated. Surgeries can require 300 to even 600 surgical tools, many of which are incredibly small.

The most common items left behind are sponges, but cases of retained instruments also include scissors, needles, scalpels, and more.

Many factors may contribute to the widespread problem of retained surgical instruments, including:


    • exhaustion
    • incorrect tool count
    • shift changes
    • frantic environment, especially in high-risk situations
    • lack of tools to ensure a proper count
    • body mass index (BMI) of patients


In particular, the energy and chaos of an emergency room situation can increase the risk.

It’s nearly impossible to calculate how often this error occurs. The problem goes under-reported, often because of fear about liability and medical malpractice lawsuits (see also: Disclosure of Medical Errors in TN). It also varies according to surgery: more complex surgeries require more tools, which increase the risk of mistakes.

Evidence of an injury due to retained surgical instruments can take a long time to notice. Sometimes patients don’t realize until months or even years after a surgery that something went wrong. (See also: What is the Discovery Rule?)

Sometimes when consequences do show up they can be mistaken for other problems. Masses can form around retained sponges, for example, but be mistaken for tumors. So if you’ve had a recent – or even somewhat recent – surgery, make sure the doctor performs adequate tests to diagnose the problem correctly.

And remember malpractice cases have a statute of limitations: if you do find evidence of an injury related to retained surgical instruments, contact an attorney quickly to get help. A good medical malpractice lawyer Memphis, TN trusts, like the attorneys at Darrell Castle & Associates, will fight for patients and their families to get compensation.

If you or a loved one have been injured by a retained instrument from a surgery, you may be entitled to compensation. Our Memphis medical malpractice attorneys can help. We will discuss your case with you for free and let you know how you might want to proceed.

Contact us today online or call 901-327-1212.