Warning, pictures of an iv line below and discussion of syringes and stuff, in case you are squicked by that sort of thing. My favorite cat picture has been added to keep the iv picture off the teaser.
I was finally out of the hospital, but I was not suddenly all better. I still had a drain in my belly, a PICC line in my arm, a blood clot in my leg, and no strength at all.
The most surprising thing about my hospital stay was how long it was. Really, the minute they don’t think you need constant attention, they send you home. The home care industry is huge and they have a lot of interesting things that make it work.
One of the most fascinating innovations is home iv antibiotics (and I assume other meds). This is a good explanation of how it works.
The PICC line is a semi-permanent iv line. Instead of a needle at the site where it enters your skin, they have inserted a very long tiny tube up the vein. They then set the end in a stabilizer that is adhered to the skin. Mine looked very much like this:
That whole assembly and dressing has to be changed weekly. You have to be very aggressive about infection prevention. The exterior ends have a twist connector that seems to be standardized in hospitals. All the syringes and extenders and tubes all appeared to have the same connectors.
They make extender tubes that connect to the short connections on your arm so that you can reach the ends one handed and do your own iv. The home care nurse attached the extender tube for me and then on days when no one came, I was able to easily do it myself. It takes the balloon about 30 minutes to empty. That link doesn’t explain the whole process. First, every time you touch anything, you clean the connections with alcohol wipes, even if you just removed the sterile cap. You flush the line with a syringe of saline to make sure the line is clear. Then you connect the antibiotics and wait. When it’s done, there is another saline flush, to get the last of the meds out of the tube. And then you flush the tube with heparin, which is an iv anticoagulant to keep the line clear of any clots. It was a slick system and the home care people assigned by my insurance sent me all the pieces and part. In fact, I have a ton of left over stuff to donate. You can’t give it back, but a lot of veterinary clinics will accept donations.
The biggest annoyance with the PICC line was showering. It can not get wet. It should not get sticky. It hurts when tugged on. I was provided with a little net sock-thing to go over the dangling parts to hold them still that I’m sure works great on people with arms smaller than mine. Mostly on me it just squinched itself into my elbow. But for a brief time it would stay put, just long enough to protect the plastic bits from the wrapping. Then Mike would break out the PressNSeal wrap, and wrap my arm twice around. The standard width of the wrap worked well enough for the length of my arm. Pat that down so it’s all stuck to my arm, and then tape the top and bottom edges. Then do that every time you want a shower. And be sure he’s on hand to help you take it back off because it can be hard to see the edges. It was annoying, but doable. We went through slightly more than an entire large box of wrap.
One tiny up side of the PICC is that because of the risk of infection, I wasn’t allowed to clean cat boxes. Between the initial surgery and the infection recovery, I got about 2 months off from cleaning cat boxes, which normally is done Every Single Day. I haven’t gone that long without cleaning cat boxes since 1993 when I had my own place and got my first post-college cat. Fortunately a dear friend was doing cat sitting as a job at the time and she added us to her schedule. She did a great job, the cats already knew her, and I got a side benefit visit every day, which was really lovely.
Then there was still the drain in my belly. That was more annoying to me than the line in my arm. The drainage bag had to be lower than the insertion point most of the time, which left me with a lot of tubing always trying to tangle between my legs, or get caught on my skirt. I couldn’t sleep on my side. It had to be very carefully dressed to keep the insertion point dry. It had to be drained and flushed every evening. That was really a good idea, as I believe the the whole infection started when one of my original surgical drains clogged long before it should have, and that drain type didn’t have a way to clear it. This one had a connector mid way that could be opened, twist-locked to a syringe of saline, and flushed every day. Because of the tubes, I wouldn’t drive with it, even though technically I was allowed. I had that for 2 weeks.
At the 2 week mark I had an appointment with “Interventional Radiology” which I’d never heard of before my hospital stay. They are the people who drain abscesses and put in drains. I’m not entirely sure what else they do. Mike and I hoped that appointment would be short so he could get home to a work meeting.
Ha. Yeah, right.
Instead, I had a surprise cat scan, just to check things out. This was highly annoying because Surprise. It would have been nice if we could have planned things better. Although, no longer the trusting sorts, Mike did bring his tablet ‘just in case’. Also, I hate that nasty, nasty contrast you have to drink. They tell you it just tastes like water, but they are wrong. If I had known it was coming, I’d have brought something to mix it with so it would go down easier. A trick I learned in the emergency room, so I know it doesn’t interfere with anything.
Some hours later I no longer had the drain. The removal of which was easy. I still had the PICC because the doctor in charge saw something that might be something, and best to be safe. Sigh. But ok, another week of iv antibiotics. I did that, and then I had 2 more weeks of oral antibiotics before I was done. I can’t really do yogurt, so I drank komboucha and took my probiotics every day.
As soon as the drain came out and I felt like I could drive again, I went to a local hair place and got my hair washed. I’d looked into that after my initial surgery. I had no idea you could just show up and pay someone to wash your hair, no cut or trim necessary. And it’s CHEAP. Even at DC prices, I only pay $10, and that’s because I tip 100% on the $5 charge. Completely worth it.
I had visiting occupational (arms) and physical (legs) therapists come right after my release from the hospital. I wish they had started coming a little later. Really, I was too exhausted all the time to do the exercises they gave me to do. I’d gone from 3 weeks of careful surgical recuperation, to 2 weeks of strict bed rest, to suddenly being home. Even walking from my chair to the bathroom was twice as far as it had been in the hospital. Just doing my best to care for myself, getting meals and drinks, going to the bathroom, taking a shower. All those things were exhausting. I didn’t really have anything left for ‘exercises’.
I almost forgot to mention the blood clot. It didn’t hurt, so it was more of an annoyance than anything because that’s what kept me in the hospital for so long. As soon as I was out, they turned the management of my blood thinners to my primary care doctor. Fortunately, blood clot issues don’t really run in my family, so I only need to be on them for 3 months. I go for a blood draw every week or two, and will in fact be going again on Monday. It doesn’t affect me too much except the restriction on getting a massage, which I would dearly love to do.
The week after the drain came out, the PICC was removed. That was a huge relief. At two weeks after the drain removal I was allowed to go back to the pool, my preferred exercise, and I finally felt like I was on my way back to health. Not a short road though. Before surgery I’d been hitting the pool 4 days a week from 6-6:30 am to walk very briskly. It had to be brisk, at that hour the water is really, really cold. When I got back in nearly 3 months later, 15 minutes of gentle walking was wearing me out. I started back at 2 days a week, 15 minutes. Last week was 45 minutes. This week I’m adding another day.
Whew. Way too long a story, I think, but that’s the highlights.