Help! The Doctor Used the HELPER Mnemonic!

by | Jan 11, 2022 | Injuries, Medical Malpractice

Partially because of the prevalence of birth injuries, the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Doctors usually have very little time to react to delivery room emergencies. Like many of us, when the pressure is on and the clock is ticking, doctors often make poor choices. These poor choices are often embedded in the very mnemonic device that is supposed to save babies.

Doctors have a very high duty of care in Kentucky. As the saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Because of this high duty of care, it’s easier for a Lexington personal injury attorney to establish negligence in court. Additionally, partially for the same reason and partially for the lifelong costs victims must bear, compensation is usually high in these cases. In addition to compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering, juries often award substantial punitive damages in these cases.

Call for Help

The first step in the HELPER mnemonic is sometimes the most difficult one for doctors to make, This step forces them to disregard the lessons they learned in medical school and as practicing physicians.

Medical school teaches students how to lead professional teams and how to think independently. Leaders often have a hard time asking for help. Furthermore, independent thinkers are not supposed to rely on anyone else.

When they get out into the world, many doctors find that patients gravitate toward professionals who are very confident in their own abilities. These individuals are not used to asking for help. They are used to providing it. Rather understandably, doctors do not want to demote themselves. But if that’s what the patient’s health and safety requires, that’s what they must do.

Perform an Episotemy

Unfortunately for mothers and babies, the first intervention the HELPER mnemonic dictates are also one of the most dangerous ones that doctors could attempt.

An episiotomy is an incision on the mother’s perineum (area between the genital and anus) which supposedly widens the birth canal and makes delivery easier. Back in the day, doctors routinely made these incisions, whether the mother needed them or not.

The most recent research clearly shows that episiotomies are ineffective and dangerous. These surface incisions do not widen the birth canal, which is inside the mother. Furthermore, these cuts often cause uncontrollable bleeding, especially as the mother pushes and increases the blood pressure in this area.

Rotate the Mother’s Legs

Arguably, this intervention should be much higher on the list. It might even deserve to be at the top. If the doctor repositions the mother’s legs above her abdomen, a technique known as the McRoberts Maneuver, gravity often does much of the work and pulls the baby down the mother’s birth canal. 

But this maneuver doesn’t always work, and it almost never works immediately. If the baby is too large to drift down the mother’s birth canal, hypoxia (lack of oxygen) can cause a permanent brain injury in about five minutes. By this time, one or two minutes, or maybe even more time, has ticked away. At this point, doctors cannot afford to roll the dice and wait for results.

Apply Suprapubic Pressure

As the clock continues ticking, the birth interventions become increasingly desperate. Applying suprapubic pressure is usually the first intervention that crosses the line between possibly useful and potentially risky.

Basically, suprapubic pressure is like performing CPR on the mother’s abdomen. The idea is that the doctor can push the baby out of the mother without using excessive force. That’s a good theory that has very little factual support.

Use Enter Maneuvers

The doctor reaches into the mother’s birth canal and tries to spin the baby into a more favorable delivery position. Either the motion or the force usually causes a brain injury, which is exactly what this maneuver supposedly averts.

Spinning a tiny infant is almost like pushing the baby down the stairs. The motion causes the tiny brain to slam against the thin skull. The impact damages the brain and also often causes the skull to splinter, making the injury worse.

Additionally, small infants are incredibly fragile. Any additional force, like a push or pull, could cause a catastrophic injury.

Remove a Limb

By this time, the doctor has exhausted all other options. Reducing the baby’s mass might be enough for it to move down the birth canal. Intentionally allowing a baby to be born without an arm or leg is very bad and extremely negligent. But it’s better than being born with a permanent brain injury.

Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. After-hours, home, virtual, and hospital visits are available. #goodelawyers