Large Surgical Sponge Left in Patient After Surgery

When Palm Beach County Judge Nelson E. Bailey entered Good Samaritan Hospital in West Palm Beach Florida for surgery to remedy his diverticulitis, he undoubtedly was looking forward to the day when he’d be pain free. However, the 67 year old judge found the pain to be worse after the surgery. His primary care doctor couldn’t determine the source of Bailey’s pain. CT scans also were not able to locate the culprit-surgeons had left a 1 square foot of surgical sponge inside him. Five months after the initial diverticulitis surgery, Judge Bailey endured another surgery to remove the sponge which had been soaking up pus and bile. The damage was so severe that surgeons had to remove part of his intestine.

Unfortunately, this type of surgical error is more common than the general public might think. According to an MSNBC report concerning the judge, “The Journal of Radiology calls the leaving behind of surgical objects in patients a “highly underestimated problem,” and a recent report says that some 1,500 patients in the U.S. find themselves in the same boat as Bailey every year — with foreign matter left in their bodies after surgery. And the most common items left behind are surgical sponges, though not all are as large as the one found in Bailey.”

That’s 1,500 patients each year that suffer further damage to vital organs and needless pain because a surgeon left a sponge or a surgical instrument in the body. These medical errors are avoidable and there are established protocols to avoid such errors.

Judge Bailey settled his claim against the hospital but may sue other healthcare officials, including two radiologists and his surgeon. The surgical error has left him unable to pursue activities such as horseback riding.

If leaving the surgical sponge in his body cavity wasn’t bad enough, Judge Bailey was also given the wrong post-op medicine that elevated his heart rate to the point he nearly suffered a heart attack. The correct medicine was prescribed to lower his blood pressure.

In settling his claim with the hospital, the judge insisted that he be allowed to discuss his ordeal publicly. I commend the judge for publicly disclosing his ordeal. Perhaps news of this medical horror story will help others avoid a similar fate.