It’s a mistake that seems so egregious that it has made its way into movies and sitcoms as a punchline in the past. The idea that a surgeon would forget something inside an incision and then close the body back up, leaving that object inside, is almost absurd because of how dangerous it is.

Surprisingly, it is one of the more common severe surgical errors that can occur. While it doesn’t happen every day, it does happen far more frequently than it should. An analysis of data about surgical errors indicates that one in every 5,500 to 7,000 surgeries will result in a foreign object left behind in a patient’s body.

What happens if a surgeon leaves something inside you or someone you love?

The object presents the risk of infection or tissue damage

The human body does not tolerate foreign objects well. People who receive donated organs, for example, have to take special medicine to prevent their immune system from attacking something that could potentially save their life.

Your body would be no different if a physician leaves a tool or implement inside you during a surgery. Inflammation can occur as the body responds to the foreign object. Unfortunately, despite an immune system response, there is still a very real risk of infection, as the object left behind may have some kind of contamination or throw the local endemic bacteria into an unbalanced state.

Beyond that, if the item left behind is something rigid or sharp, it could potentially cause cutting damage to the nearby tissue.

Addressing what a doctor leaves behind causes issues of its own

When surgery is over and staff members realize that there are forceps or pieces of gauze unaccounted for in the operating room, they will eventually have to broach the topic with the patient. It is typical for someone in this position to have to undergo a second surgery to remove the foreign objects and repair any damage potentially caused buy those items.

Every surgery generates risk for the patient, but a surgery directly on the heels of a previous one in the same area may have heightened risks. A second surgery to remove an item left behind can create secondary illnesses, compromise your body’s ability to heal itself and cause a host of other side effects.

In this situation, especially if the patient had to miss a substantial amount of work while they recovered or incurred extra expenses, they may have the right to bring a medical malpractice claim against the surgeon or the hospital where the mistake took place.