Real-Life Medical Mistakes That Will Make You Cringe

Surgical supplies are left behind more often than you would think.

When we go in for surgery, we place our lives in the hands of those who are operating on us. While most surgeries go off without a hitch, medical errors are also common. In fact, one study estimated that they’re the third leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than more than 250,000 lives per year. So what errors are happening in the operating room? Here are some true stories that will give you pause.

Here are some true stories that will give you pause.

Oh my gauze

Sponges, needles, and surgical instruments are left behind in patients more often than you would think. In fact, research has shown that it happens anywhere from 4,500 to 6,000 times in the United States each year. About 70 percent of the time, it’s gauze or a sponge that remain in patients’ bodies. But 5 percent of the time, surgeons leave their scalpel. Or something else. One scary story? A foot-long pipe was removed from a Czechoslovakian woman five months after an earlier surgery.

A burgeoning belly

After an emergency C-section, Air Force Major Erika Parks experienced extreme pain and swelling in her stomach. And unlike most mothers who’ve just given birth, her belly continued to grow. The culprit? A sponge that was entangled in her intestines. It took doctors six hours to remove the infected tissue.

Double whammy

An unnamed woman in Kentucky got more than she expected when she went in for a hysterectomy in 2006. Doctors removed her uterus all right, but they replaced it with a surgical sponge. It took six months to figure that out. When the sponge was removed, they had to take out part of the woman’s small intestine as well. A jury later awarded the woman $2.5 million in damages.

Intestinal distress

Another case of misplaced sponges involves a man named Lenny LeClair. He kept projectile vomiting, and couldn’t help but notice that it smelled like feces. He got a CT scan, which showed that several sponges from a surgery the year before remained in his intestines. They caused an infection that destroyed parts of LeClair’s colon. Doctors had to remove parts of his intestines, and he had to use a colostomy bag.

Brain surgery gone awry

Safety procedures such as drawing a big X on a patient’s head where surgeons should operate are supposed to guard against mistakes. But despite that, surgeons at Rhode Island Hospital repeatedly sliced into the wrong side of patients’ heads in 2007. In two of those cases, the surgeons had cut all the way through the skulls before they realized they had made a mistake. After the third error, the Rhode Island Department of Health fined the hospital $50,000

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Written by Xi Wang


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