Because I am having chemotherapy for such a long period of time, it is preferable to have some sort of direct access to a major vein. As such, the options are a PICC line, or a portacath.
In essence, both are the same. They are both semi-permanent catheters which are put into a major vein above the heart, where chemo (and other drugs) can be pumped.
There are however, major differences, and having been made aware of same, my heart sunk when I was told I would likely be having a PICC line put in, due to the speed with which I was starting chemotherapy.
By way of a summary, a PICC line is a cannula thingo that enters a major vein above the heart, via the arm. Specifically, it is a generally a single line going into the vein above or below the elbow, and then weaves its way through the vein to above the heart. The tube (and sometimes numerous ones) are exposed where the tube leaves the vein/skin. The result is a web of tubes coming out from me which look like ideal playthings for Annabelle to grab whenever she sees them. The real bummer is that they are difficult to shower with, and cannot get wet.
Conversely, a portacatch is a device which is about the size of a 20c piece but dome shaped with a silicon bladder on the tope of it. A tube runs from that bladder, to my jugular vein at the bottom of my neck, and stops just above my heart. Once inserted, it means that anytime I have to have a needle, be it for chemo or blood test etc, instead of making me look like a junkie, they tap into the port and away we go. Where it shits all over the PICC is that with a port, I can shower normally, there are no external tubes, and I can go swimming.
As I indicated, I was supposed to have a PICC line put in, and I’m not ashamed to say that I got really down about it. It meant that on top of what was shaping up to be a Christmas/New Years break marred by nausea, vomiting, and all manner of other side effects, I wouldn’t be able to take Annabelle to the pool/beach. It means I can go to the pub without having wires hanging out from my arm and looking like a cancer patient, which, as much as I like to think I’m not vane, is a huge fucking deal.
I can remember getting the call and being told that I was getting a port instead of a PICC and bursting into tears. The woman on the phone said she’d never had a patient so excited to have a port inserted before. I tried to explain that she had given me a large portion of my self/life back but couldn’t really find the words.
I rocked up at John Hunter ready to become a cyborg. I met the surgeon who would be inserting the hardware and blindly signed the consent form. Partly because I had been fasting and wanted to eat something, anything, but mostly because I just didn’t give a fuck as long as I got to enjoy summer with my family.
I went into theatre and met the various persons who would share my adventure to becoming part machine. They were all lovely, and we really had a lot of laughs. I really only remember Emily, my radiographer (because she was stunning), Lyndall, one of the doctors, and AJ (the fellow who did the cutting).
My most vivid memory is being told by AJ that I would feel some burning as the local anaesthetic was injected into my chest. He lied. It felt like fire ants vomiting molten lava and farting chilli’s were being injected under my skin. My yelp of ‘FUCK’ clearly got his attention and after asking the nurses twice, he confirmed that I was yet to be sedated. Strike 1 to AJ.
The rest of the procedure went off without a hitch and to be honest, was bloody interesting. I was able to watch on real time x-rays as the port was inserted and watching the guide wire go into my vein. I think I also scored some brownie points by telling them that I had performed surgery on my ingrown toenail on a number of occasions without any form of numbing agent. I’m pretty certain that Emily was impressed.
My next memory was being in the recovery room and listening to a woman come out of a heavy sedation and demand Coca-Cola every 30 seconds on the dot. Seriously, you could set your clock to this hag. It got to the stage that she would request Coke and I would answer on behalf of the nursing staff and tell her “Not yet, we need you to wake up a bit more”. I got more than a few giggles from both the staff and the other patients.
All was well until the following morning when I woke up and felt like I’d been stomped on the chest by an elephant. Fuck me my chest hurt. I now know how women having breast augmentation must feel, except that instead of having DD’s, my implant resembles half a caramello koala.
Anyways – I’m now up to date, in so far as I start chemo tomorrow. I’m sure I’ve missed out parts, particularly the really fucking low days I’ve had since the diagnosis. It doesn’t matter though, as somehow, I suspect the hard times are still to come…