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5 Shocking Surgical Mishaps



Surgery isn’t stressful only for the patient. Sometimes a surgeon may get nervous too. Surgical mistakes and oversights most often occur when emergency operations are needed, due to unpreparedness, potentially complex or difficult circumstances, or last-minute changes in procedures. Straightforward negligence is also a possibility.

Waking up During Surgery

It’s a truly nightmarish thing to imagine – waking up, without the ability to speak or move, while surgery is being performed on your body. This is exactly what happened to a young man from Sweden, Simon Rosenqvist. Under the knife for a collapsed lung, the 22-year-old says he woke up to the sound of doctors shuffling around the room and operating on him, describing it as “…terrible, my worst nightmare.”

Speaking to a local newspaper, Rosenqvist said that he was awake for between 30 to 35 minutes of the 50-minute procedure, enduring serious pain all the while. Experts acknowledge that although rare, some patients may wake up even after very heavy anesthesia. It’s estimated that this happens in one to two of every 1,000 surgeries.

Retained Surgical Instruments

Really just a polite way of saying “stuff surgeons leave in your body”, this is an example of surgeon oversight, pure and simple. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how you could sew up a person and forget a foreign object you used inside them.

This happened to a 37-year-old woman who had been complaining about severe abdominal cramps, but without any of the usual associated symptoms like flu, constipation, or weight loss. An obvious lump near her pelvic area, however, could be felt. The woman had had a laparotomy due to a failed pregnancy, so doctors suggested checking for a foreign object. Behind the abdominal wall, lodged in the small intestine, was a surgeon’s sponge, still in its wrapper.

Wrong-Site Surgery

Operating on the incorrect part of a patient’s body is a surprisingly common event. It’s horrifying to think of situations like a surgeon operating on a good eye instead of the bad one, or amputating the wrong limb – which certainly has occurred. Far more common wrong-site surgeries occur in operations like neurosurgery, where a surgeon might operate on the incorrect vertebrae.

More extreme examples of wrong-site surgery have occurred, including a case in which a surgeon operated on the wrong patient’s body. A 67-year-old woman with the same last name as another patient in the hospital she was in received an unnecessary invasive cardiac operation. The unfortunate woman had just had two successful operations performed on cranial aneurysms and was due home the following day when she was taken to the oncology floor. The next morning she was taken in for the cardiac study and only one hour into the operation did it becomes apparent that she was the wrong patient.  Luckily she was returned to her room in stable condition.

Confused Cosmetic Surgery

Yes, cosmetic surgery has become commonplace, so one might imagine that surgeons who perform these kinds of procedures have become pretty comfortable with them. Unfortunately, many people end up disfigured due to incompetent doctors who don’t know when to say “no, you don’t need a 4th nose job”.

More shockingly than performing cosmetic surgery when it’s not necessary, dozens of doctors have been found to use an unapproved form of Botox that may be as toxic as cyanide to smooth their patients’ wrinkles.


In some cases, people who aren’t qualified as surgeons – or who’ve been stripped of their right to continue practicing surgery – may operate on unsuspecting patients. Take the case of disgraced surgeon Jayant Patel. After having his practices shut down in several states throughout the United States due to negligence and reckless and uninformed surgeries, he moved to Australia to set up a practice again. There he was finally found out and charged with manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, and sentenced to seven years in jail.