So what’s a PICC and why do I need one?

OK – fasten your seat belts because when I read my info pack for the first time I could feel myself wincing.

PICC stands for Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter. It’s often used during chemotherapy for cancer to avoid the need for repeated injuries to the patient’s hands and arms using canulas. I’ve had bad experiences with those because my veins like to hide from them, and it can take up to three attempts to find one that’ll play.

So the good news about a PICC line is that it can be used to take blood samples, as well as providing easy access for chemotherapy drugs.

The bad news, for those of a nervous disposition, is that it’s inserted into the upper arm, and passed all the way along a suitable vein until the tip of the tube is in a major artery just above the heart.

I really didn’t want to imagine what could happen if that went wrong, and I have an extremely well-developed imagination…

So I met the PICC line team at West Suffolk with slightly ill-concealed trepidation. Luckily for me, they were wonderful. Having given me the initial pep and info talk (and had a good laugh with me in the process) they took me into what was effectively an operating area without most of the high-tech ‘this is really, really serious’ stuff. Step one was to take an ultrasound scan of my arm to find a suitable vein, so I told my team about Knud Fabrin, one of my Danish family who was involved in the initial development of ultrasound. It certainly proved its worth as we found a suitably sized vein within a few minutes, which was – apparently – the ‘Vein of the Day’. (I thought it was a bit early to be sure, but was suitably flattered.) Vein size is critical because the line obviously mustn’t interrupt normal blood flow.

Step two was to insert the PICC line under local anaesthetic, after putting a device on my chest which would monitor its progress towards the target artery and save a lot of what Douglas Adams might have described as ‘all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace’. Luckily, again, there were no problems with it, and the line went all the way – 44cm – to target with no need for any navigational corrections.

And that, effectively, was it, apart from putting on a dressing to ensure the outer parts of the line stayed put and didn’t cause injury. I thanked my team – profusely – and left with (most of) my fears allayed.

And ready for my second radio interview since learning I have terminal cancer…