So you’re getting a PICC line.

I’m going in to get my sixth PICC line placed. It is a bummer, but we persevere. I’m basically a pro at this now, but when I got the first one done, I couldn’t find much in the way of personal accounts. It’s pretty easy to Google a walk through of the procedure, but I learned a lot of other tips that they don’t really mention. What sort of tips, you ask? Thanks for helping out my segue, internet people.

How are your veins?
I had no idea how to answer that question, but I’ve since discovered the answer is “shitty.” I have terrible, sad, small veins that make phlebotomists weep. Some things you can do to remedy this situation are drinking a ton of water before your procedure, and keeping warm. This is tricky, because hospitals don’t seem to like keeping their sick people warm. Maybe get some fuzzy rabbit slippers…

It’s a basic hygiene thing, sure. You will have a group of doctors huddling around your armpit for about an hour. But really, showering with a PICC is difficult. So this’ll be the last one you get for awhile that isn’t filled with beleaguered sighing and creative new swear words. The first time I cut my hair really short was because I’d just gotten a PICC and washing a foot of hair was exhausting. That said, Xero Sox are excellent. They’re not giving me money to say that, I just spent nearly a year saran-wrapping my arm to bathe, and these things are amazing.

Wardrobe is important
I wore a pullover hoodie, rookie mistake. You’ve gotta get yourself dressed before they return you to your loved ones, who would normally help you in ridiculous situations such as these.

Have loved ones
Actually, anyone willing to drive you home will do just fine. There’s no general anesthetic involved, so there’s no medical reason that you couldn’t drive yourself home, but I’ve had five of these things already and have always wanted someone else to drive.

Lidocaine is THE BEST
I don’t want to tell a radiologist how to do their job, but actually yeah I’m gonna go ahead and tell a radiologist how to do their job. I’ve had two different doctors remark that they were surprised to need more Lidocaine than usual, because they tended to do this particular procedure on elderly folks (thanks, Doc, for that info.) They offered some explanation as to why that is, but I think it’s just because they were made from good, Depression-era stock and aren’t sissies like my generation. Since then, I’ve been recounting this anecdote before they start, and also maybe dropping the fact that I’ve got a 2 and a half hour drive back home. Although I’d refrain from asking for “a little extra for the road.” Lesson learned.

It hurts, but not that much
Getting the actual procedure done isn’t really painful (see previous tip). It’s less uncomfortable than getting my teeth cleaned. Later, when the local anesthetic wears off, it’s sore. Not like post-surgery sore, it’s a little worse than “I shouldn’t have lifted that much” sore. Throw a heating pad on it and watch 30 Rock reruns, you should be fine.

What about work?
So far, I’ve always gone in to work the day after I got a line placed. Even when I worked for a veterinary clinic, where I lifted large dogs onto exam tables. It doesn’t make for an excellent day, but it’s doable. If you can swing two days (for the procedure, and the day after), I’d take ’em. Keeping the thing clean isn’t all that difficult, I managed to not get sepsis at a job where I got peed on pretty regularly (plus there was that vet clinic gig, HEY-OOOOO!) If you work a labor-type job, as opposed to a desk-type job, just keep the thing covered. I used surgical netting, a loose Ace bandage, and a long-sleeved shirt. Despite holding squirmy dogs all day, the line never got caught on anything. If you’re concerned that people will hassle you about it, or ask you questions you’re not interested in answering, I found that most people either didn’t notice or weren’t inclined to ask. I spent three days at WMC Fest (in August, so long sleeves weren’t a viable option) sporting an armband as though to mourn a fallen comrade. Nobody mentioned it. I recommend cultivating the look of someone who is not to be trifled with, but YMMV.

Prepare to nap
This might be a Lyme-specific problem, and it may have something to do with the hospital I have to go to being a 5-hour drive round trip, but I’ve slept anywhere from 12-16 hours after I get home from one of these (which is not a thing I’m really doing on any normal day). I try to get everything set up before we leave in the morning, so there’s nothing standing between me and the couch when I get home.

And prepare for paperwork
This thing resulted in a lot more organization than I was anticipating. To start, I had to figure out when the visiting nurse could come in to do dressing changes and blood draws. She seemed surprised that I work, I guess most of their patients don’t. We had to figure out when shipments would need to be sent out, and every week, I’d have to give them the rundown on how much of everything they needed to send. I had paperwork on top of paperwork for every step of this, plus a giant bin to keep all of the supplies in, and it overtook a small corner of my house. And also our vegetable crisper (after a few “Can you not put your drugs on top of the leftover pasta?” conversations). You’re gonna need somewhere to keep all of this crap organized. I used to keep everything the way that they sent it out, but started setting up daily bags to save me time through the week. I had seven big ass Ziploc bags, and each one got one tubing set, two saline, one heparin, and a new surgical netting thing. Everything I needed for one dose.

IV poles
They gave me a little collapsible IV pole that I almost never used. Instead I mostly improvised with things around the house. A clothes hanger hooked onto a curtain rod works great. I used light stands or errant nails in the wall. I used bongo ties to attach them to the corners of cabinets, and once tucked one into our drop ceiling so that I could do dishes while it ran. I’ve run infusions all over the place (in a moving car, in two different airport bathrooms, at a LAN). Because I have shit to do.

Watch your language
My husband and I generally refer to me doing infusions as “shootin’ up,” because we’re bad people. You might want to refrain from using such euphemisms when you’re around new people who don’t know you, and may assume that you’re doing very fancy heroin, although their faces are pretty hilarious.

As annoying as it can be, it’s honestly not that bad. I’ve shot five weddings, photographed three festivals, flown to Spain, worked three different jobs and continued freelancing, trained a puppy, road tripped with friends, gone to concerts, and generally carried on about my life, all with a PICC line in. I’ve spent, cumulatively, about a year and a half with one in. You’d be amazed what you can get used to.

If you’ve got questions about getting a PICC, or running infusions, or traveling with this stuff, email me or find me on twitter.

3 thoughts on “So you’re getting a PICC line.”

  1. Hi, I really enjoyed your blog, it is humerous and up beat yet has your real experience with a (or six) picc line(s). You give some very usual advice and you are “real” I appreciate that. I will be sure not to wear a hoodie, definately have got to find some bunny slippers and I’m so bad at drinking enough water, but I will do it so my veins are plump. Just the word “vein” freaks me out and when the put the rubber band thing (tournacut) on your arm so tight and it pinches, ick. I just wish that I could be put out for the procedure, like they do for a colonoscopy… you wake up in recovery with a hell of a lot of gas and wasn’t aware of how you got it, lol. Thank you for your referral to your blog from Lymenet and easing my mind a bit and giving some useful tips. 🙂

    1. Glad I could help! It’s really, honestly not that bad. I’ve had more medical procedures than most, and it’s not even in the running for the worst one. We went out for lunch after.
      If you run into any questions with yours, get in touch.

  2. Thank you so much for all the very useful information that you shared, it was your words that helped me feel much more comfortable about having this procedure done. My first PICC line was placed about two weeks ago and I can say that I worried for nothing. The Radiologist and his Assistant were very fast but precise and the only thing I felt was the “bee sting” of the Lidocaine. I don’t have any pain at the site where my line goes in (inner side of arm near elbow) or any trouble doing the infusions myself at home. I had two different nurses that called on me and each had a bit of different instruction so I did have to do some research on that to be sure I was doing the correct method of filling the line with the Lactaid Ringers bag before connecting to my picc line so that I would reduce the amount of air bubbles going into my vein. My treatments go for about 5 1/2 hours plus set up time, so it does take up a good part of my days. The antibiotics (Rocephen and Azirthromycin) are provided in these balls that are pressure packed so they don’t need to be prime or hung on a IV pole. Having a pocket handy are good for these so you can get around, do some chores, pick up your child from school etc. I had my first herx at the end of the first week and into the first part of the second week. The herx played out in the way of some pretty intense pain in my fibromyalgia areas. My right shoulder over the front of my chest (clavicle) and right side of neck with lymph nodes, lumbar part of back and both hips. My DR. gave me Hydrocodone/Acetamedfin (sp) 7.5 and if definitely relieved some pain but also makes my heart race, hyperactivity, jitters, ADD and unable to concentrate even more. I am having a hard time typing, my speed had slowed down to half and I keep hitting the wrong keys.

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