The surgical table present in an operating room has an array of equipment on it. Such instruments include scalpels, scissors, saws, knife handles, forceps, retractors, towels, drains, clamps, etc. All this equipment leaves the table filled during an operation, and a surgeon can end up with a case of a retained surgical item in a patient if care isn’t taken.
A retained surgical item, popularly referred to as RSI, refers to any surgical instrument that a surgeon unintentionally leaves in a patient’s body during an operation. It is any item left in a patient’s body after completion of the skin closure by the surgeon.
Such cases have been recorded to have taken place in different hospitals around the world, and even though the items are left in the body unintentionally, victims of such medical errors can charge the surgeon to court.
The presence of such equipment in the body can cause unimaginable damage to the body’s organs, infections, and in some cases, they lead to death. Such foreign items in the body usually cause a reaction, and patients can begin to experience pain.
However, there are scenarios where a surgeon thinks such pains are postoperative pains, and they are left unattended for a long time leading to more catastrophic damages. The items sealed up in the body can begin to move around and get absorbed into an organ in the body. This can lead to the complete removal of an organ as trying to separate the organ from the item can be risky and lead to further complications.
Cases of Retained Surgical Item In The United States
According to an article from Open Access Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, it was stated that “with more than 28 million operations performed nationwide, the number of cases in which foreign bodies are left behind during a procedure in the United States has been estimated at around 1500 cases per year.” In addition, an article by Baker & Gilchrist reports that “the abdomen is the most common location for an RSI incident and sponges, in fact, are the item most frequently left behind.”
Surgical items like scalpels and sponges left in a patient can lead to complications that can require multiple surgeries to be corrected. It can damage internal organs, cause infections and make a patient sick.
Coupled with all these are the medical expenses accompanying the attempt to correct this medical error. According to a National Library of Medicine publication, it is estimated that “the average cost to remove an RSI is $63,631 per hospital stay.” Hence, it’s not out of place to see patients who have been victims seek redress in a court of law.
The case of Nazar v. Branham was one of the several reported cases of retained surgical items.
In this case, the defendant carried out an operation to remove a malignant tumor from Branham’s brain. During the surgery, a surgical item called the Durahook; a small, metallic object used to hold soft tissues apart during an operation, was left in Branham’s scalp. This caused severe pain in the plaintiff’s head, which continued for several weeks. Tests later revealed that the Durahook was present in the plaintiff’s scalp, and it was surgically removed. Hence, Branham filed a medical malpractice suit against the surgeon.
Another case is the case of Baxter V. Ahs Samaritan Hosp, where the plaintiff filed a suit against the surgeon for leaving a surgical sponge in her body during an appendectomy procedure he performed. Baxter alleged that the retained sponge caused her to experience pain and suffering, an additional medical procedure and that it caused her to deliver a premature infant.
Visual Legal Strategy In A Retained Surgical Instrument Case
In a medical error case like a retained surgical instrument scenario, an attorney should use a visual legal strategy like legal 3D animation to support an expert witness’s testimony.
This is because these animations can break down complex medical terms and surgical procedures to the level where a layman can understand them.
In a case where the RSI moves around the body, a legal 3D animation is also a perfect tool for an attorney to explain such a scenario to the jury member to aid their decision-making.
Also, in RSI cases where an organ has to be removed due to the fact that an organ has absorbed the item, legal 3D animation can be used to illustrate this fact to the jury to see the level of damage that has been done.