Eric Van De Vens Blog

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The “Ugly Elbow”!

I have been very fortunate in my life, to do as many things that I do and the way I do them and to have not sustained any serious injuries, with the exception of the “freak” knee injury and the one detailed in this post.

Back in 1983 while working for Publix Supermarkets, I was unloading one of the grocery trucks. This process involves removing larger, wheeled containers,birds, off of the truck and then on to a 12 x 12 lift. The store I was working at which is located in Miramar Florida, had a unique rear parking lot that due to flooding during heavy rains, was sloped to the area where the trucks would back up to the lift. This would mean that after you removed the securing straps for the birds, they would roll, gathering speed, downhill and it would take all of your strength to stop them before flying off the back of the ramp.

Back in the eighties, maintenance didn’t seem to be of critical importance to Publix and this is how my injury occurred. Weeks prior to the injury, one of the three retaining rails that fit into the lift got damaged by one of the trucks running it over. So, now there were only two rails present. One on the back to stop the birds from flying off and one on the right side which was a steeper drop than the left side. The left side was also the area where the large bales of cardboard were stored so if you did fall off the lift, there was still something there to break the fall, provided of course, the bales were there!

On this fateful day, there were no bales present on the left side of the lift. The grocery truck backed in and I began to unload the truck. As the driver was late,most of the stock-men had gone home for the day so it was just he and I to unload the 20 or so birds. I pulled the birds, one by one, down the truck and on the lift until four birds were on the lift. Once the lift was lowered, I removed the rear retaining rail and wheeled the birds down the hall and into their locations in the “back room”. This is where all the stock for the store is kept and in the morning, the birds are wheeled out and the stock placed on the shelves.

After unloading 12 birds, the lift surface was beginning to get moist. This was because the cold air rushing out of the big back door of the store, was causing condensation to form on the lift surface, making it very slippery. While unloading the next bird, when I got to the lift, I lost my footing and slipped off to the left of the lift. The bird continued forward, ripping the rear retaining rail right off the lift and went crashing into the back of the store wall, spewing all of its contents all over the lift area.

Meanwhile, I toppled over the lift on the left side. The lift is roughly six feet off the ground while you are unloading the trucks. This combined with the fact that I was in an un-controlled fall, caused me to land squarely on the back of my left arm. I am sure many have felt the sensation of hitting your “funny-bone” and this was much worse.

I got up and moved my arm and there was pain in my elbow immediately. I thought it would just go away, so, I continued picking up everything that spilled when the  bird crashed off the lift and finished unloading the truck. I went to the store manager and said, “I think I hurt my elbow”. He gave me a look as if to say, “What now”? I’ll have to explain this part a little bit. During the previous three months, I managed to somehow, get a piece of metal in my eye while at work and also injured my back. So now, this would make three injuries in three months and the store manager was of the opinion that I was faking this injury to get out of work. Why, I don’t know because he knew that I could outwork anyone and everyone in the whole store, but as the “Coach” says, “It is what it is”.

I finished the day and went home and promptly poured a few drinks to ease the pain. Later in the evening, my left arm began to stiffen up and after no sleep, by morning, had turned purple. Many of the people who know me best know that I have a high tolerance for pain. Some times, to my own detriment!

I went to work, barely able to move my left arm. I continued to work my section until, I spotted a couple of co-workers running around playing “grab-ass” and it just kind of set me off. I told the manager that I wasn’t going to continue busting my ass while these two were goofing off and eventually, I would have to help them finish their sections. I told him to fire me if he liked,but I was going to the doctor.

As this was a workman’s compensation injury, Publix got to pick the doctor. The doctor was Jeffery Bietler and his office was located on University Drive near Stirling road in Hollywood. He took an x-ray and confirmed I had a fractured elbow. The next question was, what are we going to do about it?

The actual injury was a crack in the cup of your elbow where your radial head fits. This is called a Olecranon fracture.

The treatment for this injury is described in the above. Unfortunately, the good doctor must not have been aware of this treatment or at the last-minute, decided to do what he did, instead. What is that you may ask? In order to get me back to work faster and to avoid paying more medical bills, the doctor removed the radial head, while telling me, he was going to repair the crack.

Below is an x-ray of a normal elbow:

Here is another x-ray of an elbow in the bent position:

And here is my elbow as of last year:

You will notice that on my elbow, there are parts missing! On the x-ray that I was shown after the surgery, there was nothing between the top bone and the joint. What you see in the x-ray above is years of bone spurs, debris, and scar tissue which has filled in roughly a one and a half-inch gap between my bone and elbow joint.

While viewing the x-ray after the first surgery, I asked Doctor Bietler, “Whose elbow is that”? He said it was mine and then I asked him, “What the F**k did you do”? He said he removed the radial head instead of what we had discussed which was to repair the crack in the part that the radial head fits into.

I then asked him, what is to prevent that bone, which is hanging in the breeze, from sliding down and making contact with the joint? He said, all-knowingly, “There are tendons that hold everything in place and you will be fine”! I may not be the brightest bulb on the tree, but I am not the dullest either! I said, “We will see I guess”.

Two weeks after surgery I was back to work. I had also been transferred to another store as there was apparently some bad blood between myself and my manager and this is how Publix solved it. It was also the beginning of my systematic removal from Publix! Between the back, eye, and now this elbow surgery, they had spent enough on one of the “workers”!

While working at the new store, my left elbow began to “click” every-time I used it. It was also very hard to straighten out completely. This clicking began to worsen and become quite painful. After a month of this and the associated pain, I went back to Dr. Bietler and he moved the arm and had a bewildered look on his face. It was at this time I realized that this guy, regardless of his training, had no idea what he was doing. I immediately called my Mother to get the number of the “family” doctor that we had used, Dr. Mahoney.

He took an x-ray and moved the arm around and said, “It appears as though your radial head was resected and as a result, the radius bone has slid down and is making contact with the joint, causing pieces of the bone to splinter and now are lodged in the joint”!

I seem to remember asking someone if that could happen and was told no!

Surgery number two was scheduled and completed. More trimming of the radius bone. I still couldn’t straighten out my left arm but most of the pain was gone. I was also transferred to yet another store, which was notorious for being the worst store in the chain, as proof, Every quarter after inventory was done, you received a bonus check. In all of my previous stores, that check was upwards of three-hundred dollars or more! At this store it was a whopping three dollars! I was subsequently fired from that store for not showing up one day. I didn’t care and had had enough of the corporate nonsense and also had a job as the manager of a service station to fall back on.

As I went on with my life, battling the pain, soreness, swelling and the inability to straighten out my left arm, fate led me to the cure.

As mentioned in my other post, The Pain at Wounded Knee, my dealings with another incompetent doctor led me to Doctor Robert Baylis to repair my knee. While there on day when my arm was really bothering me, I happened to notice the picture of an arm and elbow drawings on the wall of the office. I asked if he fixed elbows? He said it depends on what is wrong with them, but yes. I told him about my elbow.

He took an x-ray and it was the first time of many in which he described my elbow as “one ugly elbow” He has used other colorful metaphors to describe it as well. He said he could probably do something with it, so I said let’s do that now!

Dr. Baylis is unique in the fact that he does the elbow surgery arthroscopically and therefore, there isn’t as much scarring or other damage from the surgery. He showed me the “jig” he built which at the time, was the only one in the world that existed. The jig holds your arm in a position where all of the inner workings of the elbow can be gotten to.

We scheduled the surgery which took four hours to complete. Upon waking up and recovering from the anesthesia,I tried to straighten out my left arm. For the first time in 20 years, I could actually extend my arm 100%! I literally cried for a half hour as the pain was gone and I had full use of my arm again.

I will probably have to have this “clean-out” procedure done again in the future, but at least now,for the last six years, I have had little pain and full use of my arm.

So what have I learned from this experience?

Find a competent doctor to perform any surgery.

Choose your own doctor no matter what the cost, workman’s comp or not.

I sincerely hope this post helps others avoid the pain that I have had to endure as a result of an incompetent doctor.

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April 23, 2011 - Posted by | Family and Friends, Home | , , , ,

20 Comments »

  1. […] teeth. Look for “The Terrible Teeth” post in the coming weeks. As with the other posts, The Ugly Elbow &  The Pain at Wounded Knee, the purpose is to make others aware in order to prevent them […]

    Pingback by The return of the blog……again! « Eric Van De Vens Blog | December 10, 2011 | Reply

  2. I have been having numerous problems with my elbow, have had a total of three surgeries on my right elbow, two of those in just the past year. He removed the radial head, but I am still getting the clicking and popping and SEVERE pain!!! I am soooo over hurting and not being able to do certain everyday stuff. Could you let me know exactly what questions you asked the new doctor, I am going to see a new one soon, I am just at my wits end. I have a new xray from yesterday, and trying to find out if there is anything out of the ordinary. I do remember right after the surgery, an xray showed the radius just a straight clean cut, but now it’s looking weird. HELP!!!!!! Thanks in advance!!!!

    Comment by Denise Warner | September 11, 2012 | Reply

    • I went through everything that you did. I would suggest you find a new surgeon. What needs to be done, is that the “trash” bone fragments, tissue, etc., needs to be removed. What happened to me was over a long period of time, but more-so, right after the second surgery, the clicking, popping, etc. started. What all of that is, is pieces of bone breaking, arthritis, and scar tissue. The other issue is that the bone the radial head is attached to, contrary to popular belief from Doctors, does move toward the joint. Then the normal movement of the arm, causes the bone to make contact with other bones and that is what causes the pain.

      Comment by magnuminsp | September 12, 2012 | Reply

      • I am planning on seeing a new doctor as soon as possible, we own our own business, so we are trying to find affordable ins, along with a company that won’t look at this as a pre-existing condition (which they all probably will!) What kind of questions out comments did you ask the new surgeon? My worry is that a new surgeon won’t want to mess with my “ugly elbow”! If I email you my xray, could you tell me if it looks “weird”?

        Comment by Denise Warner | September 12, 2012

  3. If your x-ray look like the third one above, then it is a mess. At the time, I also had my own insurance and was able to switch to one that covered this particular doctor. Pre-existing, is usually considered an injury that occurred within the last year. Under the Obama Healthcare act, pre-existing is covered.

    You need to find a surgeon that knows what he is doing. My doctor as I stated in the blog post, did my “clean-out” arthroscopicly, and it was immediately fixed. You may need more trimming of the bone or some other things.

    If you want to send me you x-ray, you can at ev@magnuminspections.com.

    Comment by magnuminsp | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  4. As far as questions, I didn’t have to ask any after Dr. Baylis saw the x-ray. He told me what needed to be done.

    Comment by magnuminsp | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  5. I really appreciate all of your help and everything, I can’t even describe how relieved I am that I actually found someone that is going/gone through the same thing. The surgeon (who is an arm and upper extremity specialist) has pretty much said that he is dumbfounded at why there is still problems going on, I haven’t been back to him because he just wants to give me pain meds and tell me to deal with it, there’s only so much you can “deal” with!!! He has told me that I WILL need an elbow replacement, but won’t even talk about doing that until I’m like 50+!!!! So aggravating!!!!!!! I can’t for some reason get the xray to copy to my computer to attach to an email, but the radial bone, where the head used to be, is all uneven and weird (to me)! When I had looked at an xray soon after my surgery, there was a clean cut, and it doesn’t look anything like that now! Were the pieces breaking off of the radius from it moving up and hitting the joint?? Again, I thank you so very much for all of your insight, words can’t describe how thankful I am!! Please let me know if I am asking too many questions, or getting on your nerves!!!

    Comment by Denise Warner | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  6. If he is “dumb-founded” I would seek another opinion. My doctor is a sports medicine doctor. You may want to see one of those. He also does the procedure that he did on me on professional boxers. The years of jabbing and punching are not good for the elbow. The jaggedness of your bone is not normal. When mine was first done, it was cut at an angle. As you can see in the third picture above, it is now straight with a little curve on the bottom.

    Ask as many questions as you like. I do not wish that anyone would have to go through this, especially as long as I have.

    Comment by magnuminsp | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  7. I was also told yesterday tat I have a bone spur in my elbow also, I am just at my wits end with this elbow. I have told my husband so many damn times that I would rather just cut my arm off then keep dealing with this. I can’t lift my kids, do everyday things, or even hold a pen or pencil for long periods of time. Enough is enough, I know you know that!!!!! I’m trying to research bone spurs on the internet to see if it is actually a bone spur or a loose body from all the clicking and locking of my elbow, I may just have to suck it up and pay out of our pocket at least for a consultation, and to see what they have to say. My fear is that I’m going to have to have surgery again, but from everything that you are saying and that I have read, that is the only thing that will “fix” my problem in the long run. I just have to find the right doctor to fix it!!! Do you mind me asking where you are living and where that doctor is that did the final and healing fix???

    Comment by Denise Warner | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  8. Bone spur…been there done that. 🙂 I actually broke the bone spur, prior to one of my knee surgeries. I was out rollerblading and fell. Something “snapped” and then my arm swelled up. I have to see my doctor Friday for a nagging shoulder problem. I’ll see if he has that x-ray. The spur sort of wandered down to the joint and when he did the clean-out, he removed it.
    His name is Doctor Robert Baylis and he is in Plantation Florida.

    If you are having clicking, and for me, it was more like twigs breaking every time I moved my elbow, and pain, I would have to say that you have a bunch of debris in the joint and that has to be removed. If you find a doctor that can fix this, ask how he does it. Mine did it arthroscopicly and I was using the arm immediately.

    Now, I am not saying my elbow is perfect, but, I still have about 95% range of motion,some noise here and there, but no pain. I know exactly what you are talking about as far as the inability to do simple tasks. I couldn’t even hold a soup can at one point.

    One word on the elbow replacement, Don’t!
    I had asked about it and my Doctor said it is for people who have severe trauma, as in, no elbow left. Or, the very old because the elbow is a very unique joint. It moves in all directions and from everything I have read, those that have had the replacement surgery, wish they hadn’t. It is not even a consideration for me.

    Comment by magnuminsp | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  9. Also, one of my biggest fears is that every time my elbow pops or locks, it’s breaking off more “crap” and causing more damage. My original injury(fell with my elbow extended, heard it pop) in 1997-98 was misdiagnosed as “tennis elbow” when in fact it was actually broken!! I was actually working for the dr that originally misdiagnosed it, and he was hearing it pop and lock and decided to take an xray for the hell of it, and that is when he found bone chips. He was going to do the surgery for free since he misdiagnosed it, but didn’t know enough about elbows. I went to another dr that did the surgery and I was fine for about 10 years, and then it started popping and locking again, and I put up with it for about 2 years and the pain got so bad that I went to the dr. An orthopedic (that I was very pleased with) tried everything including injections (which I get severe flareups from) and was going to do the surgery, and was scheduled for it, and the day before cancelled it because he couldn’t get some eqiupment, and that is when I was referred to the so called “specialist”. I did have bone fragments in my elbow at that time. The consultation with him, he pretty much told me that I had a nasty elbow! Just like you!!! I had the original (2nd surgery) with this doctor in August of last year, and that is when he cut the radial head off, he had talked about taking a part of my femur and replacing the damaged bone with that, but he changed his mind and decided to just remove the radial head. I went for about two weeks after the surgery with no popping or anything, and lo-and-behold, it started up again. He made me try physical therapy, pain meds and everything, and decided to go back in January and clean it out. This last susrgery, he said that there were bone fragments/calcification in the ligaments and/or scar tissue. Sounds to me like what he did didn’t in fact fix it, but made it worse!!!!! So there is the back story for my situation, hopefully we can figure something out soon. This shit hurts!! I know you know that ( again )

    Comment by Denise Warner | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  10. Why in the world did he remove the radial head? The radial head fits into the other part of your elbow and provides stability. Unless it was shattered, I would never want it removed! The injections, pain medication, and all that do nothing but prolong the inevitable. What ever is causing the pain needs to be removed.

    I for the life of me, cannot understand the lack of simple logic that seems to be prevalent in the medical profession. My wife works in the medical field and some of the things she tells me, before she even finishes, I ask, WTF?

    Comment by magnuminsp | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  11. Yeah, I agree. His reasoning was that because there was no cartilage or any kind of padding for the joint, it was bone rubbing on bone, so he removed it to “prevent” that. I asked him the same question, will it move and cause more damage, and his response was that if it does move, the most it would move FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE would be a couple millimeters……if you say so!! These idiots I think try to do these crazy things, and then turn around and just push you to the side if you continue to have problems, because it didn’t work. He says he supposedly talked to a couple of colleagues from around the country and they all agreed with him. I better find out if my next dr was one of them so I don’t go to them either!!!! It’s honestly the hardest thing in the world to find and actual GOOD doctor that wants to do things for you to honestly HELP you and not to just put money in their pocket. Does that make sense, or is it just me looking too much into it!? LOL

    Comment by Denise Warner | September 12, 2012 | Reply

  12. Those were my feelings exactly. What, are you guys all in this for the money and who cares about me? The good news, is the Dr. Baylis came just about as close as a doctor can to calling the doc who screwed up my knee and this other one, incompetent, to be nice. If you read the pain at wounded knee entry, https://ericvandeven.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/the-pain-at-wounded-knee/, you will see what I mean.

    I have a healthy distrust for doctors as sometimes, the things that they say, make no sense whatsoever. Dr. Baylis isn’t like that and in fact, has told me that someday, I will need replacement of my knee, but, as long as I can take it, we will keep cleaning it out and I will keep the rest of my original parts. The same goes for my elbow. I have developed some sort of pain in my right shoulder and I will be seeing him Friday for that. Hopefully, noting is seriously wrong there, but I am sure he will tell me!

    Where are you located? I can ask if he knows of a good surgeon in your area.

    Comment by magnuminsp | September 12, 2012 | Reply

    • That would be AWESOME if he knows someone here! I’m in Covington, GA, I was seeing Dr. Ratner in Atlanta, and he’s the one who screwed it up! Thanks for asking for me!

      Comment by Denise Warner | September 13, 2012 | Reply

      • He said to go to the rehabilitation hospitals in your area and ask which doctor is the best for elbows. He didn’t know of any one doctor, but did say there was an orthopedic group in Atlanta.

        Comment by magnuminsp | September 14, 2012

      • Hey, I really appreciate your help, I just went to the doctor that did my original surgery back in 99, and he said, without having to say anything at all, that my elbow is NASTY!! He is wanting to do radial head replacement surgery. He is talking to a couple of the elbow specialists and seeing if they agree, or come up with any alternative options, but he thinks that this is the best plan of action for my age. You had the replacement put in, didn’t you? Was it the metal one??? Again, thanks for all your help during this, I might be asking you a few more questions once I get the confirmation that is what we are doing……

        Comment by Denise Warner | October 2, 2012

  13. I never got the replacement surgery. As a matter of fact, my doctor strongly urged me not to even think about it until I was in my seventies! He did the clean out and after that said, if it gets worse, we will think about replacement. From what I heard, everyone who got that surgery done had problems. I would be very sure of the outcome before thinking about that surgery.

    If I was to do it, I would use this one: http://www.stryker.com/en-us/products/Orthopaedics/ShoulderAndElbowSystems/SolarRadialHead/index.htm.
    If I remember correctly, when I was researching my knee, their knee replacement was supposed to be the best out there at the time.

    The problem with the radial head replacement may be the amount of bone left to place the implant in.

    Take your time with this! 🙂

    Comment by magnuminsp | October 2, 2012 | Reply

  14. […] elbow, which doesn’t show up well in this scan, three surgeries as detailed in the “Ugly Elbow” […]

    Pingback by A busy week is behind me…. « Eric Van De Vens Blog | May 11, 2013 | Reply

  15. […] Re: Insurance for inspectors I have a work rider with my wifes insurance policy and a waiver that will release the seller of any liability if needed. So far, not needed. And incidentally, I don't know how workers comp is today, but back in the day, it wasn't very good. You had to use their doctors…which I found out was a big mistake! The Ugly Elbow […]

    Pingback by Insurance for inspectors - InterNACHI Inspection Forum | July 30, 2014 | Reply


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