10 things I would rather do than have a PICC line:
- Re-sit my Physics 1001 exam from first year uni.
- Chop up 5 kg of onions. With a spoon.
- Stub each and every toe.
- Do 8 hours straight of weeding. With my stubbed toes.
- Prepare and paint an entire house.
- Look for a needle in a haystack.
- Watch grass grow.
- Have my head flushed down a toilet.
- Walk across a football field of bindis in bare feet.
- Try to keep a toddler quiet and entertained on plane trip to London.
By now you might have a sneaking suspicion that PICC lines are not at the top of the list entitled “My Favourite Things in the Entire Universe”. I’ve had 9 PICC lines so I’ve certainly given them the benefit of the doubt and not jumped to any hasty and misguided conclusions. I’ve also done my research to make sure I’m not just a silly scardey cat. It turns out that PICC lines bring grown, tough men to tears too.
Because of my aforementioned dodgy veins I get to go on excursions to radiology where they can use contrast dye and x-ray to visualise my veins. In theory, this should make the process a little less like playing “Pin the tail on the donkey”.
These experiences are rather drawn out. There’s always lots of time to languish on my bed and anticipate. It could be hours, it could be days. Who knows in the public hospital system? Eventually I spy a porter’s feet approaching from behind my curtains. I slip out of my clothes and into something more uncomfortable: a hospital gown. There’s a small flurry of activity as my nurse and porter puzzle out what machines I’m attached to, why, what can be disconnected and how. I am paraded through corridors and down a lift before being left for an indeterminate amount of time in a holding bay with lots of unconscious people. Since temporary unconsciousness is unfortunately not an option for me I take the time to peruse my medical notes which are always conveniently left at the end of my bed.
No less than 6 different people approach and interrogate me:
What’s my name?
What’s my date of birth?
What procedure am I having?
Am I cannulated? Which arm?
Could I possibly be pregnant and am I sure? Like, really, really, REALLY sure I’m not pregnant?
What star sign am I?
Do I like long walks on the beach?
What’s my PIN?
Is this my signature on the consent form (which outlines all the ways this could go horribly wrong)?
Interrogator number 6 wheels me into THE room and helps me wriggle onto a hard table. It’s always icy cold so I can’t tell if I’m shivering or shaking or both. Roughly 20 mins later I am prepped for sacrifice. Almost my entire body is covered in plastic and green sterile cloths. The plastic certainly helps with the cold. Hey, that answers the question – turns out I’m shaking. My soon-to-be-violated arm is strapped to a plank, a tourniquet is applied and my arm is painted in fluoro green antiseptic. My other arm has a blood pressure cuff and oxygen saturation monitor attached. I can hear my ridiculously high heart rate beeping away and my oxygen sats are bouncing around. My head is turned to one side and I have an X-ray machine hovering 10 cm above me waiting to take pretty pictures. Claustrophobia central. I would need to channel Wolverine to get out of this position on my own.
I’m told to lie back and think of England. My preferred option is to lie back and beg for sedatives. A lot of sedatives. Like, enough to put a hippo to sleep. Sedatives are given. Enough for a baby hippo perhaps. Radioactive dye illuminates the road map of my veins on a screen. I look for long enough to convince myself that contrary to popular belief I actually DO have veins. Then comes some local anaesthetic. The main event involves another needle and lots of pressure and pushing – at the site, up the arm, in my arm pit – while the guide wire and plastic PICC line travel from my elbow and up my arm to end at my heart. Hopefully it takes one attempt and a few minutes. Sometimes it takes multiple attempts and a couple of hours. Sometimes you have to say: “Enough. Step away from the table, put down the sharp instruments slowly, we’re done. And no, we aren’t trying again tomorrow. Thank you. (pause) Ummm… before you go, could you please kindly unstrap me and move the x-ray machine away and bring my bed back so I can literally crawl into it?”
A new porter collects me. We retrace our steps. A different nurse choreographs a new dance with the porter, tubing and machines. My gown now has splashes of green and red. I burrow into my bed in my little cubby hole with the curtains drawn convening a little pity party. No uninvited guests please. Unless they bear gifts of ibuprofen.