When Amber had surgery to remove her kidney and the tumor, she also had a Hickman Line placed in her chest. A Hickman Line is a central venous catheter that can be placed for long-term use. This is the method that Amber would receive chemotherapy drugs. It would also be used for most all of her blood draws. There were occasions that she would still need to be stuck but with the placement of the line, those would be few and far between.
While in the intermediate ICU after surgery, Tammy and I were trained to flush Amber’s line. We had to flush it daily with Heparin. Since the line was in vein leading to the heart, it was very important that we learned how to flush it properly. We were given oranges to use for practice. Tammy and I spent the better part of the 2nd night in the hospital room sticking needles in oranges for practice. Before Amber could be released from the hospital to the hotel, I had to flush the line in front of a nurse. Having never been around medical procedures of any kind, I was very nervous….but I did what I had to do. By the time her line was pulled 7 months later, flushing her line was just a regular part of our day.
The area around the line had to be cleaned daily to prevent infection. It would then be covered with sterile gauze and taped to her chest. She could not get the area wet so we had to be careful at bath time. We were fortunate that we had no problems during the months that she had a line. Although we were scared of it when we were first told she would have one, we soon realized that it was a great thing because she was no longer getting needle sticks multiple times throughout the day.
As I mentioned before, the line was placed when she was under anesthesia for surgery. Removal of the line was a whole different story. We went to the clinic at St. Jude the day it was to be removed. After her check-up I assumed we would be moved to an area where they would sedate Amber to remove the line. Nope, that isn’t how it works. The doctor discussed what we would need to do after the line was removed. He then wrapped the line around his hand and pulled. Yes, he pulled it out of her chest right there on the examining room table. Amber screamed, I cried. The doctor just smiled and said that it was better that we didn’t know it was about to happen. He might be right but I will never forget the shock of that moment when he pulled.
After removal of the line, Amber would be left with a scar that basically looks like a cigarette burn. She also still has the cuff that held her line in place. You can feel it under her skin. Unless it ever causes her any problems, the cuff will remain on her vein. All little reminders of things that she doesn’t remember going through. Reminders of a medical device that helped save her life.
This is a picture of Amber taken one night during the cleaning and flushing of her line. This is what it looked like when it wasn’t taped down. The read marks on her chest show the size of the taped down gauze area.