Legal: Retained sponge after hysterectomy

March 1, 2009

After hysterectomy, patient develops infection and sponge is revealed after x-ray.

IN 2005, A 49-YEAR-OLD MARYLAND WOMAN underwent a hysterectomy performed by her gynecologist. After the procedure, the patient complained of abdominal pain, fever, chills, and nausea. She went to the physician's office three or four times with consistent complaints of fever, chills, and nausea and called several times, saying her abdomen was too painful to touch. An antibiotic was prescribed, and she claimed the physician told her the pain was a normal part of her recovery. Five months after the operation, the patient underwent a routine x-ray of her prosthetic hip, which revealed a retained surgical sponge in her abdomen. She reported this to the gynecologist, who in returning the call left a voicemail saying he was away for the holidays and that she could live to be 100 years old with the sponge. But he told her to return for a consultation after the new year. The woman was scheduled to see another physician, but then developed a bowel obstruction at the end of January. She was admitted to the hospital for emergency removal of the sponge, which had created an abscess and bowel obstruction. She recovered without further abdominal complaints after the January surgery.

The woman sued the gynecologist and alleged negligence in leaving the sponge in the abdomen and in failing to follow-up on her consistent complaints after the surgery.

The physician claimed that a proper sponge count was the responsibility of the nurses and denied that the patient complained of pain after the surgery because he had no notes in the record to that effect. A $4.9 million verdict was returned, which was reduced by caps to $1,329,886.