All about PIC lines

A PIC line allows repeated doses of intravenous (IV) fluid to be administered without having to repeatedly stick a needle in a vein. This is helpful when one has been told to administer IV antibiotics daily for six weeks. That much I knew when I arrived at the hospital at 9am on Tuesday morning. What I didn’t expect is that it would take almost 8 hours for this line to be inserted! Luckily, I spent much of that time with a wonderful neighbor in the bed next to me. Not only was she a sweet woman (she and her husband bought me lunch as I was unprepared with cash and had no way to go get it!) and a reminder of how much I have to be grateful for (a grandmother to many, she also was on her 6th chemo treatment), but she had a PIC line of her own and was full of advice. Here is what I learned about PIC lines and IV antibiotics both from her and from my own experiences over the last six weeks:

  1. Make sure the PIC line is inserted in your non-dominant arm! This will make it easier to deal with showering, administering medicine, and so on
  2. Ask that it be inserted about 2 inches above your elbow. This will avoid problems such as the dressing being in the crack of your elbow where the PIC line may get bends and kinks in it
  3. Be sure that everyone dealing with your PIC line keeps the insertion area very sterile. Do not be afraid to speak up and ask people how they are making this happen, and what to watch for or do yourself.
  4. Make sure that you are happy with your dressing. My PIC line’s dressing had to be changed every week. I was lucky enough to have a nurse very experienced with PIC lines most weeks, and I could really tell the differences on the week that a substitute changed the dressing. Even so, in the first two weeks, I had to ask for an “emergency” mid-week dressing change to ensure that the line wasn’t kinking, the tape wasn’t causing my arm to break out in hives and so on. If you are uncomfortable with something, speak up.
  5. Be sure to ask for an extension so you can reach the line with both hands. It was an invaluable aid that allowed me to administer my medication alone when my husband was busy with the kids or traveling
  6. Also ask for a shower bag. I used a combination of an ACE wrap, two rounds of saran wrap and a shower bag (a plastic bag with a drawstring at the top and bottom), and pulled the drawstring so tight it almost cut off my circulation. Even with all of that, my ACE wrap sometimes got wet while I showered.
  7. An ACE wrap or the top of a sock (cut off the foot) both make great covers for your PIC line. This helps the line from catching and pulling (you don’t want it to pull out!) and also provides some privacy if you are in short sleeves
  8. If your meds normally infuse by gravity (as mine did), and nothing’s happening, check if there’s air in the line. I made the mistake more than once of pushing the saline through so far that the bubble of air in the saline tube ended up in my line and then nothing would infuse. Once I discovered the cause of this problem, I didn’t have any further troubles with gravity-based infusion.

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