PICC line

When you need chemo, the doctor will either place a PICC line or port in you.  I was given the choice, but I don't think this is always the case.  Since my treatment period is relatively short (I'll be done in July), I decided to go with a PICC line. So what is a PICC line and how do you deal with having one?  That is what this blog post will be about.

A PICC line is like an IV.  You will go to the hospital to have it placed, but you will be awake for the procedure.  They can lightly sedate you if you are nervous, so make sure you have someone to take you there and get you home.  I did not need any medication and the procedure really doesn't hurt.

You will be taken to an operating room and an x-ray machine will be over you.  First they will ask you what hand you use and will most likely place the PICC in your non-dominant hand, if the vein is good.  They will use a doppler (like getting an ultrasound) on your arm to check your veins.  Then you will get a shot of Lidocaine.  That's the only part of the procedure that should cause you any pain. It feels like a bee sting and will hurt for about a minute.  After that your arm will be numb and you shouldn't feel anything from the PICC being inserted.

The line will start in your arm, above your elbow and will be on the inside of your arm (so closest to your body).  The thin line will run up your arm and to your heart.  They will use the xray that is above you to position this correctly.  You may feel some pressure or pulling, but there won't be any pain.  If there is, let the nurse know and they can numb you up some more.  I only felt pushing and that was it.

After the line is placed they will bandage you up.  Ask if they have an PICC line covers, which are like leg warmers for your arm.

Every week the dressing will need to be changed in a sterile setting.  You and your nurse will wear a mask while it's being changed.  The caps to the lumens will be changed too.  You will probably have two lumens in case one stops working during treatment.  Every day you will need someone to flush the line for you.  That's the worst part of having a PICC, because I hate how the saline tastes when the line is being flushed (yes, I can taste it).  First they will push saline through, then heparin.

You can't get the PICC wet, so you will need to wrap your arm in Saran wrap when showering and will need to avoid baths and pools during treatment.  That's one disadvantage of the PICC over the port.

Most likely your oncologist will set up a home health nurse to come over once a week to change the dressing and to just check on the line.  This process doesn't take long, but please make sure they are using sterile techniques when changing your dressing.  The last thing you need is an infection.  :)

The great thing about the PICC is you don't need to be poked at all during treatment.  Any contrasts for scans, the drugs, saline, even blood draws can all be done through the line.

The PICC line is in my right arm, you can see the pink cover over it.  

Getting the dressing changed 

The PICC line and dressing

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