During what I now think of as my undergraduate thesis work in the Hero’s Journey, I had a lot of toxic stuff injected into my arms. The chemo regime that we used against my lymphoma in the 80s involved regular injections of chemicals that actually came in bags bearing big ‘BIOHAZARD’ stickers. And I had round after round of such injections. As a result, my veins are a mess, a network of vessels that are scarred, or shrunken or blocked, or otherwise hard to deal with. Nowadays, I count myself lucky if I can get even the most routine blood draw with only one or two needle sticks, and lab techs sometimes spend 15-20 minutes prowling my arms, using warming cloths and other tricks to find a usable vein.
Which is why I had an appointment on Wednesday for the insertion of a PICC line. A PICC is basically a long, flexible tube that gets inserted into a big blood vessel in an upper arm, and threaded up until it empties in the chest near the heart. It can be fastened in place for an extended period of time, and the external end has a plastic fitting designed to mate with syringes. It can be used both to inject drugs and to take blood samples. Which means no needle sticks required until the PICC gets removed weeks from now. YAY!!!
Back in the 80s, I had an ancestor of the PICC inserted when my veins ran out before my need for chemotherapy. At that time I had a ‘Hickman catheter’, which served a similar function, but was much more problematic. For one thing, it required a surgical procedure to place, and for another, it required daily maintenance injections of the anti-clotting agent heparin, which I had to do myself in sterile conditions.
Insertion of the PICC was much simpler. It happened in a regular hospital room on the “Special Procedures” floor. The process was handled by one quiet and competent RN, Claudette. There was much draping of areas, and unfolding/upackaging of sterilized kits, and masking of everyone in the room, and slowly, in calm workmanlike fashion, it was done. No pain, nice and quiet, routine. The way you like to have procedures go.
A short trip to the radiology department for a chest X-ray showed that the end of the tube had taken a short detour the wrong way, so the PICC nurse came down and applied an easy fix, which was confirmed on another x-ray. I was good to go.
I now have a bit of plastic stuck by adhesive to the skin of my upper arm that holds the tube in place, and the outer end protrudes a few inches with a fitting on the end for syringes or IV tubes to screw into. There is a clear plastic bandage like sticky Saran Wrap that covers the plastic bit and the end with the fitting sticks out from that. I get a niffy elasticized cloth sleeve that slides over my arm to cover and also keep the dangly bit from getting in the way or caught on anything.
The best part is that the bandage only needs to be changed once a week, and the tube only flushed once a week. I have infusions once a week. Voila! It all gets taken care of at the same time, by professionals, and all I have to do in between is keep it dry and undamaged. Yippee!
(I have a couple of iPhone photos I took to show you how it looks, but they seem to be lost in some void between mail servers at the moment, and I’m too lazy to chase down the cable to get them off my phone in the ‘old-school’ way right now. They’ll show up eventually.)