Monday, December 20, 2010

Athlete Wannabe Dips Toe in Plasma Injection Pool

There I sat in a hospital bed staring at a syringe about a third full of a fizzy pink substance; in color and texture it looked like a raspberry snow cone. The syringe was a result of what I had given consent for my podiatrist to do: I was having my own enriched blood plasma platelets injected into my foot, a cutting edge medical technology.

“Isn’t this what famous athletes do?” I asked the nurse who was tucking a heated blanket around my icy feet.

“All sorts of athletes have it done for their injuries,” she replied. “Tiger Woods had it in his knee before his big tournaments this year. Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu did it before the Steelers won the Super Bowl. It’s a treatment that speeds up the healing process.”

Blood plasma taken from my arm was spun in a centrifuge right there in the Gladiolus Surgery Center in Fort Myers, FL. The enhanced blood platelets were separated out and were to be re-injected into the wound site, in my case the incision where an arthritic bunion at the base of my toe was to about to be removed. The big toe would be realigned by means of a titanium screw. The payoff for me was the stabbing pains to my foot would stop.

The plasma injection marshals the body’s natural defenses in muscles and tendons where there’s not much of a natural blood supply to begin with. The platelets, which look like tiny sponges under a microscope, catalyze tissue growth. Though more research needs to be done on this procedure, the fact that my insurance covered the procedure was an indication to me that I might hope for positive results, even though there’s been an aura of scandal attached to this procedure in the world of professional sports.

The New York Times, Scientific American, and the scandal watch website, Steroid Nation have all reported on rich plasma injections (PCP).If an athlete has PCP done in to repair an injury, as Woods did before playing The Masters Tournament at Augusta Georgia, then the procedure is legit. If an athlete has it simply to boost performance, as various Olympic runners and Tour de France cyclists have been accused of doing, then it isn’t.

Where I was concerned, I figured that a side benefit of having a rich platelet procedure was bragging rights. I hoped it might enhance the status of a laggard writer among the star athletes of my extended family. A pencil pusher who does a few yoga stretches and leisurely walks with the Intrepeds, our ladies’ hiking group in Deer Harbor can’t be taken seriously in my end of the gene pool.

Brother Dennis Kincaid climbs the major peaks in North America to keep in shape. A summer or two ago he visited me on Orcas Island after summiting the 22,841-ft Aconcagua, ‘Sentinal of Stone’, in the Andes range of Argentina,highest peak in the Americas. I just had to keep up when Dennis did a Sunday stroll up the 1519-ft Turtleback Mountain on Orcas. Next day I collapsed while Brother Dearest put in eighteen miles or so on his mountain bike.

On the Williams’ side of the family tree, ‘Jamaica Bill’ Williams of LTU Pub in Negril is a disciplined runner who was training for a 13-mile marathon when I saw him a few weeks ago. His younger sister Christine Shaw in Boston has been a competitive gymnast her whole life. Chris is now involved in rigorous training so that she can be called upon to judge in the Olympic level competitions.

The height of my own athletic endeavors was a climb of Mt. Adams in south central Washington State, waaay more years ago than I care to admit. A Mt. Adams climb is a useful brag, however. The 12,281-foot Adams is closely aligned with its more lethal Cascades Range volcanoes, Hood and Rainier, which have a nasty habit of offing experienced climbers on a regular basis.

Mt.Adams has a gentle slope, a walkers’ hike, a very long, exhausting hike, and I was an under-trained last-minute substitute among several hundred serious hikers who made a mass climb of it, in the way the Japanese gather en mass to walk up Mt. Fuji. We awakened at midnight, summited at dawn, the miners’ helmets on our heads snaking up the mountain, a magnificent sight this was.

I’ll admit right now that I never would have summited at all but for the coaching of Everest class moutaineer and expedition photographer Steve Marts, hired by my editor to see that I got off Adams alive and lived to write about it for Cascades Magazine in Seattle. Marts refused photo credits for the assignment lest his serious climber pals laugh him out of the club. My editor, as I now recall, was the guy who bailed on the hike at the last minute; he didn’t dare leave me to fend for myself on Adams.

As for the plasma injection? I slept right through it. Having this procedure, while not exactly a piece of cake, is more of a strawberry snow cone number. However, my podiatrist insisted that his traditional treatment rules still apply. Stay off the foot for 72hours, apply ice, take pain meds if necessary, remain bandaged for four to six weeks, and hobble around in a rigid boot for at least three weeks.

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