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Bye, bye PICC line...

*****Warning: If you are easily “grossed out” by photos of a PICC line in someone’s arm or you do not want to see what a line looks like after it is taken out, please do not scroll to the bottom of this post. I have posted photos of the removal of my line for educational purposes for those of you who may be considering going through this process. Don’t worry…there is no blood!***

Hallelujah! The day finally arrived for me to have my PICC line removed after eight months of having that double lumen catheter flapping against my left upper arm. It couldn’t come fast enough in my opinion. If you have been following the blog lately, I have been trying to focus on the PICC line experience because a lot of you have been asking about the experience. Although it has proven to be a Godsend for many Lyme patients in getting them well, it was not a good treatment plan for me.

In summary, I struggled from day one with the catheter. I started with a bad response to my first medication (Rocephin) which caused GI upset that was so bad it necessitated switching to Vancomycin within one week’s time. I was able to take that medication for three months but by the end of that time, I was so weak that I was down to 97 pounds. I was essentially bedridden at that point and I was suffering from POTS (Postural Orthostatic Hypotension Syndrome). That illness causes tachycardia (heart rates from 130-150) and falling blood pressures if you try to stand up which can cause you to pass out. The decision was made to stop the IV antibiotics because my body just could not handle it. I was placed on a heart medication, IV magnesium and IV fluids to increase my blood pressure.

Early into the PICC line experience, I also experienced a new symptom of severe chest pain which may have either come from irritation due to having the catheter lying near my heart or it could have come from the POTS, we are not quite sure. I would often have to lie on my right side just to get some relief from the symptoms. Sometimes the pain would never go away. I never went to the hospital for it, I simply endured the pain and tried not to get anxious because that would just exacerbate the symptoms. I learned to live with it and accepted that Lyme will do crazy things to your heart. I have had negative EKGs and clear cardiac ultrasounds in the past so I wasn’t overly concerned that I was having a cardiac event.

The most difficult part about the PICC line was always trying to bathe without getting it wet. It would literally take almost two hours just to wash up in stages. First it was washing my long hair in the bathtub under the faucet, then washing face/neck/ears in the sink, shave legs in the tub, then draw a bath while wrapping my arm in saran wrap (Press and Seal works the best), then taking a bath while keeping my left arm out of the water, then draining the tub and finally rinsing off completely with nice clean water from the hand held shower nozzle. After all of that, I would have to dry off, peel off the entire saran wrap contraption hoping that no water had leaked past the waterproof tape I had used around the edges of the saran wrap, then use a facecloth to wash that arm around the dressing covering the PICC line site making sure not to get it wet, then get in clean jammies, clean up the bathroom and drag my exhausted butt back to bed to recover. Try doing that for EIGHT MONTHS and tell me how you would feel about taking a bath! Not a pleasant experience. I did try two of the commercial PICC line covers (protective sleeves) that they sell which are supposed to keep your arm dry so you can take a shower like a “normal person” but they were both pieces of junk and a waste of money.

So, I was looking forward to getting this line out just for the ease of jumping in the shower! I got my line taken out approximately 40 hours ago and I am still waiting for the opportunity to take that quick shower because I have to wait for the hole in my arm to close up a bit. The process for getting the line out was really easy. My nurse came over and I had a “dressing change kit” prepared for her on the table. She put on her mask, regular gloves and removed my tegaderm clear dressing that was covering my line. Then she removed the stat lock that holds my line in place. She put on her sterile gloves and used cleaning swabs to sterilize the entire site. She prepared a sterile gauze with a big glob of Neosporin on it and she placed it right over where the line was entering my arm. She asked me to take a deep breath and hold it. When I did that, she quickly pulled the line out of my arm while holding the Neosporin gauze over the hole where the catheter was being pulled out. I was then allowed to breathe normally. She held pressure on the gauze for a few minutes. It didn’t hurt at all! I never even felt it coming out.

After a few minutes of holding pressure on the gauze (she never let go of that gauze over the hole) she then placed another gauze over the first one and then she grabbed a new tegaderm clear plastic and placed it over the entire site sealing off the entire area. She told me to leave this bandage on for a minimum of 24 hours. This process is done so no air can enter the hole which can cause an “air embolism” to enter the vein. I didn’t bleed at all and she told me that people rarely bleed when she removes PICC lines. I was happy to hear that. I decided to leave my bandage on for 48 hours just because I have had my line in for a really long time and I want my hole to close up. I don’t heal very well due to my illnesses so I definitely don’t want to get any air into my veins and I don’t know how well the hole will close in my arm. I intend to still cover this site with a Band-Aid for a while even after I remove this tegaderm just until it heals so I can continue to prevent any infection. I was blessed to get through eight months without any line infection so I don’t want to catch one now.

Here is the photo of my arm before I had my line removed:

Here is the photo of the ports at the top of the PICC line for medicine and flushes:

Here is the photo of the wings that held it in place to the stat lock:

Here is the entire line when removed, lying on a drape on a pillow case:

So, there you have it. My experience with the PICC line! I hope that you never have to experience this but if you do, I hope that this blog has helped you be a little more informed than I was going into the whole ordeal. I will close this post here and try to hit the publish button because it has taken a few attempts for WordPress to accept all the pictures. I am happy to put this behind me and move forward with getting stronger, then trying other methods to fight my Chronic Lyme Disease. Good luck to all of you out there. I will be talking to you again real soon!

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