Surgical Sponges

A few times in my lawyering career, I’ve had medical malpractice cases in which careless doctors accidentally left things in people’s bodies after cutting them open. Wires, superfluous body parts, and the ever-popular sponges, to name a few.  I get that carelessness happens, but still. I’ve been known to be careless from time to time. I have a giant wad of keys, the likes of which would impress any elementary school janitor. I only actually use two of the keys and one of the key tags, but I’ve learned that if I have a giant wad of keys it is easier to keep track of.  If I just have a couple of keys, they get lost. I’ve left credit cards at restaurants, I leave my carefully packed lunch sitting on the kitchen counter, and I’ve left socks and toothbrushes in hotel rooms. 

So I get it. It’s easy to lose things.  I just think, if you’ve got a human being flayed open in front of you, that a quick inventory of the things you put in there would help you keep track of the things you took out.  If I leave my phone sitting on the bathroom counter at the gym and never see it again, I just go to Verizon and get another one. It’s semi-annoying, and may cost me a few hundred bucks, but it isn’t really a life changing thing.  Having a pair of clamps floating around my abdomen might make a bit of a bigger difference in the long run.

I recently went to the hospital to visit a friend who had just had a baby. (Cute baby, by the way. Tiny little thing. Smells like milk and poop.) Being a lawyer, and therefore being hyper-aware of liability issues, and being a nerd who actually reads fine print, and being a humor writer who lives for finding odd things in unexpected places, I looked around the hospital room while it was someone else’s turn to hold the baby. There were two posters on the wall, warning posters, which caught my eye.  The first was a brightly colored poster titled “Where are the Sponges?” Apparently, it is easy as 1, 2, 3 to find out where the sponges are. One should inspect the sponges before they get put into someone’s body, they should be counted, and when you’re done, there should be the same number of sponges as sponge holders.  Well, that’s great, I thought. And really freaking obvious. But what good is this poster in an obscure corner of a mother and baby room?  Shouldn’t it be sterilized and hung somewhere in the operating room?  The couch it hung next to was designed for visitors like me, people most unlikely to leave sponges inside of their friends.

But that’s not all. Someone somewhere decided that telling someone with seven years of post-secondary education how to count in 3 easy steps was not sufficiently complicated. Another, bright yellow poster was hung next to the first one.  It had several different checklists for different people – surgeons and nurses, and gets more technical about x-rays and additional help, but really comes down to the same basic advice: count.  What goes in, must come out.  One should, as the poster advises, “Pause for the Gauze.”

Again – great advice! But how many surgeons are standing in a back corner of the mother-and-baby rooms to get surgical advice? And how many surgeons have you met that would think for ten seconds that a poster could teach them anything?

Mainly I’m concerned that this is a big enough problem that it deserves cutesy posters placed all over the universe like so many hand washing signs.  I saw more don’t-leave-sponges-in-people’s-bodies posters in the hospital than I’ve seen anti-bullying or drunk driving posters in my son’s high school. 

I’m not sure what my point is, other than that I found the placement and existence of these posters entertaining in my weird, twisted little way.  But, you know what they say: A Poster A Day Keeps the Lawyers Away.  And no one likes to see lawyers coming.*

*Except people who need help.  Make all the lawyer jokes you want, but seriously – who is the first person you call when the poop hits the spinning fan blades? You don’t have to like us, but you do need us

If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori at her website, , on Twitter, or on Facebook. For the Best of Lori, read her books, “Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza,” “The Armadillo, the Pickaxe, and the Laundry Basket,” and her latest release, “You Know I Love You Because You’re Still Alive.”


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