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The Surprising Reality of Retained Surgical Instruments and Misdiagnosis

  • 3 min read

You’d think that the chances of a surgeon accidentally leaving an instrument or sponge inside a patient are minimal. Surprisingly, these shocking instances are not uncommon. In this exclusive interview with Chattanooga Attorney Marc Walwyn, we delve deep into these alarming medical scenarios.

The Shocking Truth About Retained Surgical Instruments

While it might sound like something out of a TV drama, retained surgical instruments and sponges inside patients post-surgery are a more common occurrence than one might expect.

“It’s not uncommon,” Marc Walwyn begins, emphasizing the gravity of the situation. “And it can cause serious medical issues if not promptly addressed.” This is because surgeons and surgical staff typically count instruments and swabs before and after a surgery. The failure to account for these instruments is not just an oversight – it’s a breach of the standard of care.

When asked about the reasons for such errors, Walwyn candidly reveals, “It often comes down to human error. Failure to count or not paying careful attention during surgery can lead to these mishaps.”

It’s essential to understand that this isn’t the responsibility of the cleaning staff or others outside the operating room. OR nurses, doctors, and other surgical staff have a shared responsibility in ensuring that such errors do not occur.

Warning Signs of Retained Surgical Instruments

So, how can a patient know if they’ve become an unfortunate victim of a retained surgical instrument? According to Walwyn, the signs present themselves quite quickly. Symptoms include:

  • A wound that won’t heal properly
  • Persistent pain post-surgery
  • Unresolved infections
  • Issues around the surgical incision, where sometimes the foreign object may even try to push itself out.

Knee Replacement Errors: A Grey Area

Transitioning to another area of high search interest, knee replacement surgeries can also lead to complications. Pain at the surgical site is expected initially, but as Walwyn explains, if the pain lingers or escalates, it could indicate issues like incorrect sizing of the replacement device or defective hardware.

“A couple of millimeters off in sizing could be a huge issue,” says Walwyn, emphasizing the precision required in these surgeries. If complications arise, patients might need a ‘revision,’ meaning another surgery.

The Complexity of Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis is another concern many patients have. How do you determine if you’ve been misdiagnosed? Walwyn suggests that while getting a second opinion is crucial, it’s essential to understand the various factors at play.

Sometimes, patients might not be the right candidates for specific surgeries or treatments, leading to complications later. Proper informed consent before any medical procedure is critical.

“In the case of misdiagnosis,” Walwyn elaborates, “it’s not just about the initial error. It’s about the subsequent effects that error might have on the patient’s health and well-being.”


Medical procedures come with inherent risks, but awareness and information can empower patients to make informed decisions and take appropriate actions when things don’t go as planned. As always, it’s crucial to consult with medical professionals, get second opinions, and be proactive about your health.

Disclaimer: This blog post is based on an interview and is intended for informational purposes only. Always seek professional medical advice before making any health-related decisions. The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. Always consult with a licensed attorney for any legal questions or concerns.