I’m on my third port-a-cath. My memories of growing up involve lots of hospital stay, and having funny looks for having my arm bandaged up. I remember sitting in my dining room, screaming, as my mum tried to administer home IV’s and not understanding why she wouldn’t stop. There was a burning sensation running through my collapsed vein. Sometimes I had to go back in to Yorkhill Hospital around midnight, in order to get a new IV line put in to another vein so that I could get my next lot of IV’s in the morning. Having doctors telling you they were going to help and they were trying to make you better, then proceeding to insert a needle in to your arms multiple times attempting to find a vein that would draw blood back to prove it was working. It was like trying to draw blood from a stone. It could easily have been mistaken for a domestic abuse case, having bruises covering both my arms. However this was simply through attempts to find a decent vein to receive the necessary medicine. When I was on IVs my hospital visits were regular, around two days, or three at most. However I was fortunate that my mum was trained to do home IV’s, so I did get to go home and go to school while on IV antibiotics as opposed to spending the two weeks as an impatient.
By the age of 10 it was suggested that I get a port-a-cath. A port-a-cath is a tube which is inserted into a central vein which has a small circular bit of rubber, fitted under the skin. A needle can be inserted into the rubber part, so direct entrance to a vein is always available when IVs are required. The port must be flushed every 4 weeks to prevent the tube from blocking. The flush simply consists of a heparin injection through the port. This is always done by one of the Cystic Fibrosis nurses.
I completely refused at first, I hated the idea. I did not want a foreign body inserted into me and causing a prominent permanent lump under my skin.
However one night while I was an inpatient I finally agreed. It was when they were trying to put in another line that I finally agreed to have the port. Getting a new line in my arm usually took multiple attempts and multiple doctors before a success. I realised I was being ridiculous going through that constantly: nothing could possibly be worse. I was in hospital to have an operation the next day: my third bronchoscopy. (When tubes are stuck into the lungs to hoover and clean them out t). Therefore it wasn’t much trouble to add in a port-a-cath insertion during the procedure. (I always have been spontaneous in my decisions)!
My first port-a-cath was at the top left hand side of my chest. It served me well, lasting around 8 years. However during one of my stays receiving IV’s in hospital I was very unwell, constantly being sick, with anti-sickness pills not helping. I eventually received an anti-sickness injection one night (But was told by the nurse they couldn’t keep giving me them, as it was very expensive! I wasn’t really thinking about the price of medicine while being as sick as a dog, alone for the first time in hospital!) Eventually it was discovered that my port-a-cath had gotten infected and the source of my sickness was a blood infection. So I had to get the port removed immediately, in an emergency operation, which unfortunately for me was the day before Christmas. I also had to start a drip immediately (unfortunately a new line was required for this) which I would need to have daily for a month in order to clear the blood infection.
My next port-a-cath was inserted a few years later. I hadn’t wanted that one either, but things were the same as before, when my veins were impossible to use. So I didn’t have much other option. This one was in my arm. And I was awake during this operation. Watching a surgeon physically slice the skin in your arm open with a scalpel and feeling the blood run down your arm isn’t the nicest of experiences. It was just after I left high school and just before I started university. So I got to start with a ‘lovely’ fresh scar across my right arm and a prominent lump bulging out it. I cried for a week after it was inserted. I was petrified what people were going to think about me. As if having to start a new place and having people stare at my Creon curiously while I eat and wonder what was wrong with me wasn’t bad enough. I now had a constant reminder of my abnormality bulging from under my skin: that’s how I viewed it. I was absolutely sure my new university class would think I was a freak. However, nobody ever commented on it. Though I worked in a bar at that time and used to notice people staring. I always wondered what they thought. This port-a-cath only lasted a year. The problem with this one was blood clots. All up my arm. It was never even used for IV’s. That always makes me upset, but I suppose that was just not predictable. So I had to watch another operation where the port was removed. It only takes about 20 minutes to remove a port. However getting rid of blood clots isn’t quite as easy. Blood clots due to IV’s has been a problem a couple of times now. The first time I was simply prescribed aspirin for a while to thin my blood. But the next time I had to inject myself with heparin for 6 weeks. By the end my belly was covered in bruises from the injections and I was so swollen and sore I had to wear leggings all the time instead of jeans.
I’m on my third port, which was put in early this year. It’s under my armpit, positioned at the back. This can be slightly annoying while trying to administer IV’s myself, but with an extension on the tube it is usually fine. All other options for administering IVs have basically been exhausted. I received this port earlier this year, I desperately needed IVs but obviously there was the problem of receiving them. I have already had a Picc line, which is inserted by experts into a central vein in the arm. However by this time even this was not working. This resulted in the insertion of a Hickman line. This line is inserted into a direct vein, either in one’s neck or groin. The procedure isn’t very pleasant. However as mine was in my neck it was easy enough to convert into a port. The tube in my neck can be seen, and felt very easily. But it doesn’t really bother me anymore. And to be fair it could easily be mistaken as just a prominent vein. It can be annoying when I’m wearing a neckless, or driving, as I can feel it on the tube irritating the area. However with a seatbelt cushion this is easily resolved!
It can sound horrible but to be honest sometimes I’m grateful when the doctors says they think IV’s are required, getting to go a few months without feeling terrible and having constant coughing fits is worth it, so I’m glad I have my port if ever I need it. So here’s hoping this one will last me a few years!
The first time I got a Port-a-cath my parents bought me a little television and DVD player for my room, which was great as neither my sister nor I was ever allowed a TV for our rooms. I think I got a box of Marks and Spencer chocolates when I got my third port! How things change!