The most painful 20 minutes of my life took place during the afternoon of October 2, 2020. While I was lying facedown on a gurney somewhere beneath Husky Stadium, someone injected my own platelets back into my Achilles tendon. There were two doctors and a medical assistant back there, and I don’t know who was pulling the trigger. Whoever it was, they were causing pretty excruciating pain.
What is PRP?
PRP is Platelet Rich Plasma. It is your own blood that gets spun around in a centrifuge to get a concentration of platelets and white and red blood cells, which is then injected into an injured site in hopes it will restart or stimulate healing. Since Achilles injuries can become degenerative and your body eventually gives up on trying to heal them after too long (4 years was definitely too long), the hope was that the PRP injection would “wake up” my body’s natural healing processes and it might start actually trying to heal this tendon. However, it’s still considered an experimental procedure and most insurers don’t cover it. So I was paying $900 for this out of pocket. It was a lot for something with mixed results, but I was out of options.
To get the PRP, they drew my own blood, and spun it around in a centrifuge. That process seemed to take about a half hour. I brought my laptop, so I could work while I waited. I tried not to think about what was going to happen while I sat in the exam room, alone.
They injected a local anesthetic in the area of the tendon. It seemed to numb the outer area, since I couldn’t feel the needle with the PRP going in at first. But then the PRP hit my tendon and OMG THAT HURT. They told me to breathe. I did, loudly, through my mask. I started to moan, and then started making involuntary cry/scream noises. I wondered if other people in the sports medicine clinic could hear. At one point, they took a break from injecting to give me a chance to catch my breath. One doctor mentioned that they couldn’t put that much lidocaine on the tendon or the PRP wouldn’t work, and putting the PRP on the tendon was generally pretty painful. This was in contrast to most things I’d read, which was that the numbing works well and you don’t feel a thing! Sunshine and roses!
They told me to let them know when the pain level went down. I just moaned and wondered why I had agreed to spend hundreds of dollars to be tortured. One doctor said “we’re breaking, we’re breaking….” I moaned again. “We’re still breaking…” she responded. Finally I said they could keep going, even though I had felt no appreciable decrease in my pain level.
I estimate that the procedure itself took 20 minutes, although pain time is different and I really don’t know. When it was all over, I had to quickly learn to use crutches on the fly, since they had to free the room up to torture someone else. My Achilles felt like someone had knifed it. They gave me some ice and brought my husband in, who helped me get the boot on and helped me to the car.
I have read that if you don’t have PRP on your driving leg, you could theoretically drive yourself. Our car is a manual, so they are both driving legs. But the pain was so intense that I don’t think I could drive with PRP anywhere in my body. While I normally avoid opioids, I took a Tramadol as soon as I could get the prescription filled. I then headed home to sit on the couch as much as possible, and learn to crawl and crutch around the house.