A doctor looks at an x-ray while explaining something to a patient.

A sponge, gauze, scissors…

Items that should be left on the surgical tray,  NOT  in your body.

We get it, some people aren’t phased by the sight of blood and can even watch a surgical video without flinching.

But if you’re like the majority of people, you look away. When going in for surgery you may ask how long your surgery will be or what recovery’s like. But the rest…well you leave that to the medical staff. You don’t want all of the spine tingling details. You expect surgery to go smooth. To get in and out and have a nice place to rest your head while you recoup.

A girl lays comfortably in bed full of blankets and pillows.

What you don’t expect is to experience stomach pain and bloating for years and later find out two surgical sponges were left behind during your C-Section. Or come to find out your doctor left behind a towel, that’s now intertwined with your intestines…what?!

Here’s a few of the craziest surgical tales we’ve heard yet.

Missing Retractor

Unless you’re in the medical field, you probably don’t know what a surgical retractor is. Basically it’s a tool doctors use to keep your incision open and to hold back tissue and other organs.

Patient Donald Church knows all too well about these large, metal devices. It’s been nearly twenty years since his surgery, but it’s still one of the wildest stories yet.

Mr. Church’s surgeon left a 12 inch retractor in his abdomen. 12 inches! Can you imagine the misery he must have been going through? Being constantly poked and prodded by a piece of metal. According to Church it was agonizing:

There were days when I would just roll up on the floor in the bathroom and sob, because I was in so much pain. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.

Donald Church

Mr. Church voiced his concerns to his surgeon, but was told that pain post surgery was normal. Even thirty days after surgery, he was still communicating his concerns to no avail. Thankfully his family physician noticed a strange lump in Church’s chest during a routine exam. An x-ray was ordered which clearly showed the retractor. Church lived to share his story, and received some much deserved compensation for his troubles.

Infection Leads to Death

Not all stories have a happy ending. That’s why medical errors are such a huge issue that needs to be addressed. Sometimes people lose their lives because of careless mistakes.

In this story, a mother of three lost hers.

Geraldine Nicholson went in for surgery to have cancer removed. Scary enough, right? But weeks later she learned a surgical sponge had been left in her body from surgery. The sponge was removed, but Ms. Nicholson dealt with various infections spanning a year, because of it.

Cancer treatment saves lives but it also wreaks havoc on your immune system. Even the most mild infection can be life threatening. Because of the sponge’s aftermath, Geraldine wasn’t able to receive the chemotherapy and radiation she needed. She wasn’t left with a fighting chance. All because of a surgical error. Like others, she lost her life because of someone else’s mistake.

Surgical tools with surgeons performing surgery in the background.

Missing Needle

For many, there’s no surgery as scary as open heart.  It’s long and intense, and just seems so vulnerable. Imagine making it through a 9 hour surgery only to learn that a needle has been left somewhere in your body. Unlike some cases, at least the doctor acknowledged their mistake and tried to make it right, but needles aren’t easy to find. There’s a reason for the adage, “Like looking for a needle in a haystack.” Some things are nearly impossible to find.

Just a month after surgery Mr. Burns passed away because of complications from the needle. Only after an autopsy was performed was the tiny but devastating tool found.


According to the CDC there are an estimated 1,500 cases each year of foreign entities being left behind during surgery each year. The most common items are sponges and surgical instruments. Usually poor communication and organization are the culprit for such mistakes.

In most hospitals there are standard precautions in place to avoid errors like these. Such as the scrub nurse counting the number of sponges and instruments, both before surgery and after.

Mistakes happen. There will always be human error, but you shouldn’t be penalized because someone else made a mistake. Medical malpractice affects not only quality of life, but in some cases duration.

You are your best advocate. If someone treated you wrong, reach out to someone who can help.