Aileen Lamb
Posted by
Aileen Lamb

The Demise of my PICC line

Aileen Lamb
Posted by
Aileen Lamb
13 Nov 2015

When Claire inserted my PICC line she and Amy her helper were ultra careful to make sure to avoid any chance of infection. However, there are never any guarantees and just 3 days after having it put in my PICC was showing worrying signs of something not being right.  A wee red ring appeared around the entry site of the PICC. The nurses told me to keep a close eye on it over the next few hours.

I kept both eyes fixed on my left arm from then on. As I watched, an ‘alien landing site’ appeared – it looked so odd I was being visited by nurses and docs for about 2 weeks to ‘have a look’ at my arm – because they’d never seen anything quite like it! The wee red circle grew from the size of a 10p very quickly to the size of a bagel on the inside of my arm. It was purple and surrounded by evenly spaced dark purple dots. “Right” the nurses said…..”that’s coming out, NOW”. So my saviour from the needles was being torn away from me. My arm had turned rigid from the elbow upwards. The PICC site was seriously infected and throbbed.

It’s taken 4 weeks for this guddle to rectify itself and there is still a vague blueish tinge to the inside of my arm, but getting the line out and pumping me full of antibiotics did eventually sort out the infection. It sometimes happens apparently and PICCs are more likely than Hickmans to get infected like this. But I was just so sad because it meant that my next 6 days of chemo were going to have to be done via a canula in my hand / arm / wrist.

A canula is probably something that most folk will recognise – think about ER or Casualty and if someone is linked up to a drip for fluids or bloods they are likely to have a canula on the back of their hand. That’s fine if it’s a quick one-off but I needed access for fluids, bloods, antibiotics and chemo to be given to me – sometimes for up to 14 hours a day. And the guys also needed to take blood for testing daily to check progress. Each canula can be used for maximum 48 hours – but some of mine only lasted 2 or 3 before the vein gave up and it had to come out.

I think my most pissed of moment so far was on the second last day of chemo when I had one canula in each hand, both attached to a different bag, and keeping me prisoner attached to ‘Pole’. When one vein gave up and the nurse had to remove the needle she clearly saw how much all of this digging around for veins was getting to me. “No more for today” she promised. “You’ve really had enough of this, haven’t you?” I was very, very grateful to her for taking ownership of that rubbish situation.

One wee light at the end of this tunnel was the news that I’d snagged a surgery slot on Monday 26 September to have my Hickman line inserted. I was slightly trepidatious about having this ‘thing’ inserted into my neck and coming out of my chest, but it was solving the disappearing vein problem and that was huge.

The procedure was ‘different’ and my hand holder during it was mental. We roared with laughter about friends in common and her ex-husband!  We caused a riot in theatre and even got the surgeon involved in a debate about which Islay malt was the ‘best’.

Always good to bring a good dram into the conversation – it certainly took my mind of my surgery :)

(Oh and I prefer Ardbeg, and he likes Lagavulin).



Really sorry to hear about the problems you had with your PICC line but I'm glad that they resolved themselves over time. As you mention infections in PICC lines are not uncommon and I'm glad that you've switched to a Hickman as whilst not infection free they are far less likely to pick something up.

The Hickman line fitting is a bizarre process isn't it? As you're awake you're fully aware of what's going on and it's pretty invasive yet at the same time you can't really feel what they're doing to you. I'm glad you had someone there with you to help keep you calm and take your mind off it all. I didn't have that luxury but the surgeon was very calm and easy to talk to.

The reverse process of having the Hickman line removed is equally, if not more, bizarre but is not something to be feared and a sign that you're on the mend.

Stay in touch and keep blogging! :)