Serious complications can happen with any type of surgery. Keep reading for 7 common errors that could go wrong in surgery.

Having surgery causes enough anxiousness and the last thing you should be worrying about are preventable mistakes.

Unfortunately for the nearly 50 million Americans who undergo surgery each year, some will suffer serious complications due to errors from negligence. While these mistakes aren’t malicious, they’re usually avoidable for operations done by any licensed medical professional.

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States and although certain factors may be out of your control, it’s important to be aware of what could potentially go wrong.

Keep reading for seven errors that could arise during or after surgery.

Surgical Items Left Inside Patient

Retained surgical items refer to tools left inside the body after surgery is completed. For many, it’s a scary reality that can result in more issues than from before undergoing surgery.

Every year 4,500-6,000 Americans deal with this preventable surgical error.

Common items accidentally left inside patients are sponges, needles and fragments from surgical devices. While there’s no genuine excuse for this to happen, causes include if a patent has a larger body type, emergency unplanned surgeries or long procedures involving more than one team of surgeons.

An affected patient could go a long time before realizing and experience serious complications that lead to an improper body function or even death. X-rays will usually help identify any equipment left inside the body.

Incorrect Procedure Site

There’s a good reason you may see surgeons mark a patient’s body with a marker prior to an operation. While rare, surgery performed on the wrong side or area of the body does happen.

This mistake usually results from areas of the body being confused for one another or organs being mistaken during the procedure. For example, a surgeon may operate on a patient’s left kidney when it was supposed to be the right kidney or mistake a healthy organ as an abnormal growth or tumor.

A 20-year study found that approximately 1 out of every 112,994 surgeries were performed in the wrong area of the body.

Operating On the Wrong Patient

Receiving a planned procedure that ends up botched is troublesome enough, but it’s not uncommon for a surgery to be performed on an incorrect patient altogether.

It would seem unimaginable for such a mixup to happen, but human error resulting from poor written and verbal communication, documentation or lack of hospital staff is the root cause. Many times this fault falls on the nursing or support staff as opposed to the actual surgeon.

This type of incident doesn’t always result in harm, but it can lead to serious issues and compromise a person’s health depending on the type of wrong surgery performed.

A doctor in Kenya made international headlines last year after accidentally performing brain surgery on the wrong patient, but this happens more often than publicly reported. Sampson Law Firm has many years of experience representing clients suffering from surgical errors.

Improper Use of Anesthesia

Surgeons aren’t the only ones who can make mistakes. Anesthesiologists are tasked with the important job of making sure a patient successfully stays unconsciousness when surgery is performed.

If anesthesia is administrated improperly serious issues can happen during surgery, such as waking up mid-operation, permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen, or possibly death.

Frequent causes of this issue are due misjudging the amount of delivered anesthesia or neglecting to recognize complications as they occur.

Outside of the hospital, surgical errors from anesthesia can also occur at the dentist office.

Nerve Damage

The human body has adapted to naturally heal from injuries like broken bones, torn muscles or scraped skin. The central nervous system, however, is much more complex. It communicates with the rest of the body and controls our senses and ability to move.

You probably remember playing the classic board game “Operation” growing up, but damaging a nerve during surgery can result in lifelong complications. This includes tingling sensations in certain parts of the body or loss of feeling altogether.

Nerve damage from surgery can result from defective surgical equipment, tiny lacerations during the procedure or improper administration of anesthesia.


It’s not uncommon for patients to have an infection after receiving surgery. Uncontrollable risk factors such as age, weight or disease history could cause a person to have a bad reaction while a wound is healing from a surgical incision.

Other times, however, these infections can be due to unsanitary conditions or operation tools used by medical staff. We think of hospitals as a sterile safe haven, but negligence from how equipment and rooms are cleaned and prepared can compromise a patient’s safeness from infectious bacteria.

It’s best to have surgery from a reputable medical institution that follows proper sterilization protocol.

Errors From Aftercare Instructions

In many cases, your surgical procedure may be flawless, but the treatment and aftercare instructions you receive could put you in harm’s way. This includes infection, but can also result from factors such as blood clots, lack of follow up or being prescribing incorrect medication.

Whether your procedure is as simple as a vasectomy or as serious as a heart transplant, everyone’s body reacts differently and you should be aware if the instructions provided aren’t improving your condition after surgery.

Always be transparent with your doctor about your medical history that could have serious implications as a result of surgery to help avoid these errors.

Stay Aware

No one goes in for surgery expecting these type of medical errors and unfortunately, there’s only so much you can do to avoid them.

Always know your options before opting for surgery and receive a second opinion if you’re not sure. Sometimes alternative treatment methods may be better for our health in the long term, but every person’s needs are different.

There are also scenarios in which issues resulting from surgery are due to unforeseen circumstances and not a result of medical negligence. Regardless, potential complications should always be disclosed to you before undergoing an operation.

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