Many people feel anxious or claustrophobic during an MRI, but it shouldn’t be physically painful. Yet Glenford Turner felt pain almost as soon as the procedure began. It was soon revealed that his abdomen had been harboring a scalpel for four years.
The 61-year-old military veteran is suing the Veterans Administration for medical malpractice. The surgical instrument was left inside him accidentally in 2013 by an inexperienced VA surgeon.
Objects left behind happens surprisingly often in surgeries
While this tale sounds like something out of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, the phenomenon of “retained surgical bodies” happens with alarming regularity. A study published in a 2017 medical journal estimates there are about 1,500 cases per year in the United States. An analysis of different data by USA Today in 2013 suggested that the actual number of cases is much higher, between 4,500 and 6,000 per year.
Leaving an entire scalpel inside a patient is uncommon, and having such a large and dangerous object go undetected for several years is even rarer. More commonly, surgical sponges, gauzes and hemostats (clamps) are left behind amid the chaos and mess of surgery.
A scalpel, metal clamp or suture needle has the potential to cause serious internal injuries, slicing organs or blood vessels or nerves. The primary danger with other retained surgical bodies such as sponges is the risk of infection; patients can develop sepsis, a life-threatening infection in the bloodstream.
Retained objects is medical malpractice
Glenford Turner had experienced unexplained abdominal pain, but the retained object was not discovered until he was undergoing an MRI for an unrelated reason. The strong magnets of the MRI started moving the scalpel, causing such severe pain that the procedure had to be halted immediately. An investigation revealed that a trainee surgeon had stitched up Mr. Turner with the surgical instrument still in his body cavity. He required a separate surgery to remove the object.
He has filed a medical malpractice lawsuit in federal court against the VA, which not only botched the operation but was outrageously slow in responding to his administrative claim. In addition to Mr. Turner’s medical expenses and pain and suffering, the lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of his wife for her collateral loss of her husband’s company, services and affections.
Retained surgical bodies occur for different reasons, but the most common cause is a breakdown in communication. The surgical team is supposed to account for every piece of equipment used during the operation before closing the surgical incision. They get no credit for counting all the sponges but overlooking the scalpel.
Source: Veteran Sues After Scalpel Found Inside His Body 4 Years After Surgery (NPR.org)