A surgical sponge accidentally left inside a patient‘s body.
The critical news reports and lawsuits may help explain why, in the language of medical journals, surgical tools sewn up inside people are not lost, forgotten or left behind; rather, they are "retained," almost as if the patient had chosen to hang onto them.
"It is kind of a euphemism," Dr. Gawande said. "It implies a certain lack of responsibility, or that the instrument did it itself. It is the technical term of art, undoubtedly developed in the malpractice context."
The profession has coined a word for a left-behind surgical sponge: gossypiboma, from the Latin word gossypium for cotton and the Swahili boma for "place of concealment."
Denise Grady, "Forgotten Surgical Tools 'Uncommon but Dangerous'," The New York Times, January 21, 2003
Commonly used surgical sponges and appliances all have standardized, readily recognized opaque markers visible on radiographs. When these markers are identified on postoperative radiographs, they should be assumed to represent retained surgical sponges or appliances. . . .The early recognition of these retained surgical sponges should eliminate most complications related to their presence.
R.G. Williams, D.G. Bragg, and J.A. Nelson, "Gossypibomathe problem of the retained surgical sponge," Radiology, Vol 129 323-326, 1978
A synonym for this word is textiloma, which combines the word textile (until recently most surgical sponges were made of cloth) and the suffix -oma, meaning a tumor or growth (which, in this case, is obviously used with tongue planted firmly in cheek). Another is the slightly euphemistic retained surgical sponge.
Any surgical instrument unintentionally left inside a hapless patient (such as a clamp, as shown in the image at left) is called a foreign body granuloma or a retained foreign body. These have been in the news of late thanks to a report called "Risk Factors for Retained Instruments and Sponges after Surgery," that appeared in the January 16, 2003 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that the most common risk factors associated with "retained foreign bodies" are emergency operations, unplanned changes in operating procedure, and when operating on patients with "higher body-mass index" (less delicately: excessive amounts of fat).