I love my port-a-cath. Absolutely LOVE it. I was so excited in the prep room before theatre that they gave me sedatives to take my excitement down a notch. I’m not sure anyone has ever been quite as excited about an operation before. Getting my port makes it into the top 10 best things that have ever happened to me… possibly the top 5.
Ok, so what is it?! It’s a block of silicon surrounded in metal with a catheter trailing out of it. The silicon/metal part sits under a few layers of skin somewhere on your torso (mine is under the heart my hands are making). The catheter is inserted into the closest major vein (my subclavian) and is guided through the veins to end right where your heart is. It facilitates pretty quick, and most importantly, panic free venous access. The port happily sits there, performing it’s function for (hopefully) a very, very, very long time.
To use or access the port is a bit of a mission. We have to access and flush it every month to keep it clean and free of blood clots. First of all we need to fetch all the bits and pieces from the top of the cupboard in our bedroom. Invariably a vital part of the process will be forgotten… or dropped and is no longer sterile… and we need to get the step ladder out more than once. There’s lots of washing of surfaces and hands before putting on sterile gloves. We then get to paint our skin with fluoro green chlorhexidine to kill the bacteria living on the skin around the port. Drawing up saline and heparin and priming lines takes a bit of time. Then, it’s simply a matter of sticking a special port needle through the skin and into the port to flush away any gunk and seal the line with heparin. I wasn’t sure if I could stick a needle into myself the first time I attempted this feat. It still takes a bit of mental preparation but I can do it.
All of this TLC means that when we need antibiotics in hospital or at home we have easy peasy access for the drugs.
The alternative option is PICC lines. I am less than enamoured with them. I will refrain from ranting… but let me just say that a procedure which leaves your arm looking like this is not fun. It’s certainly not something you’re prepared to undergo every year or more. The physical trauma is obvious, the mental and emotional trauma is just as full on. It takes a lot of guts to volunteer for the same procedure again and again. Ignorance really can be bliss.
The last PICC I had was amazing, however. I had the pleasure of meeting a registrar called Stuart who a) is not afraid to be generous with sedatives and b) can navigate the venous system like a pro. I swear he looked exactly like Dr Alex Karev from Grey’s Anatomy. I fell just a teeny tiny bit in love. If only all PICC line experiences ended this well!