The Highly Anticipated and Highly Elusive Port Post
I’m back with another installment of The Cancer Kid’s Survival Guide.
Not really. But ports are da bomb.
People really should come standard with them at birth. If they can someday integrate ports into our genetics, I’m all aboard that ship. Life would be so much easier.
If you, or anyone you know is deciding whether or not to get a port, hopefully this post will shed some light on my little friends, and encourage you to get one.
1. What is a port?
A port [port-o-cath, or med port], is a small device surgically implanted under the skin, and acts as a direct pathway to the bloodstream. It is commonly called an infusion device, because that is exactly what it does; infuses medications into the blood.
2. What does a port do?
A port, as stated above, is a direct pathway to the bloodstream. This allows for IV medications to be administered easily and effectively into the body without risk of extravasation [fancy word for medicine leaking into your tissues], blood draws to be performed, and blood transfusions, if necessary.
3. Who needs a port?
A port would be beneficial for anyone requiring IV treatments on the regular, or over long periods of time. That means you, all my chemo pretties. Other medical patients that require regular IVs, blood transfusions, etc. could also benefit from having a port.
4. Sarah, why are ports so damn cool?
Well kids, I will tell you! Ports are amazing because, if you are a “tough stick,” like I am, a port allows the nurse to “hit a vein” on the first stick. I generally am dehydrated and don’t like to keep my veins too superficial. I don’t wanna make the job too easy. Having a port makes the needle jabbing a one time deal. Which is nice when you have labs and chemo the same day. One poke. One time. Wam, bam, thank you, ma’am.
Personal bit: Because my oncologist knew that I would be more comfortable with a port during my 6+ months of treatment, we scheduled the placement right away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have it placed until after my first chemo treatment. I had the ABVD treatment through an IV in my arm. I’m not sure if I had a sensitivity to the drugs, or what the heck, but my arm hurt like no other for about a week after that chemo. In fact, after my port was placed, I took the pain meds prescribed to me, not for the port placement but for the intense pain in my arm. My veins were kinda scared of chemo after that. When my port was finally in, and I had my first blood draw/chemo sesh with it, it was so easy. No venous pain, no multiple catheter placement attempts.
Imagine 80’s movie montage with my port and I in my chemo chair. That’s how in love I was.
In the medical world, if an emergency situation occurs, and medications need to be administered [to increase heart rate, fight against an allergic reaction, etc], a direct line to a vein is a must. If you just happen to be dehydrated, or it is difficult to find a vein right away, this could pose a serious problem. Having a port takes care of the worry.
Ports are also the bees knees because they pose a smaller risk of infection than picc lines. Because they are under the skin, they are less exposed to all the nasties out in the world that can cause a picc line to get infected.
For all my bad mamma jammas out there fighting cancer and caring for small children or animals, ports are cool because they aren’t as easily caught on things. Picc lines are easier for tiny hands to grab and tug, or paws to get snagged on. Having it under your skin keeps it safe from snags, which are also risks for infection. I have gotten by underwire caught on it on occasion, but that’s much less of an issue than tugging a catheter out of your arm.
5. How do I get a port?
After clearing it with your oncologist, and scheduling a port placement with your surgeon, you can finally be the proud owner of a port!
A port is surgically implanted during an outpatient procedure, which generally takes 30-45 minutes. In my experience, I was given IV drugs to knock me out, taken into surgery, and woke up plus one port. Generally ports are placed under heavy sedation, because the catheter portion needs to be placed into a vein [generally subclavian] and threaded to just before the heart.
6. So, I’m going to have this thing protruding from my chest? That’s weird. It’s distracting. I don’t like it.
Alright, this is where I say. GET OVER IT. Ports are generally the size of a quarter, and as thick as a bottle cap. Really not like growing a new appendage or carrying around an extra head or anything. It does take some getting used to, but after a few weeks, you’ll grow to love it. Well, maybe not love it, but appreciate it, at the very least.
Ports are da bomb, I would shout it from the rooftops. But, like anything, there can be a few cons to having one.
1. Although minimal, ports can be a risk for infection.
Like I mentioned earlier, ports are beneath the skin, and thusly pose a smaller risk for infection than picc lines. However, anything that is poked and prodded as much as a port is, could potentially be an infection risk. That is why keeping the area clean before and after access is important. I would also recommend wearing a waterproof bandage over it if swimming/hot tubbing/other dirty things is a must in the few days after access.
2. Port pokes are a one time stick, however the blood may not come out immediately.
This happened to me two times in the six months I was going through chemo/fluid sessions. When the nurse accessed the port, there was no blood in the catheter when she drew back the syringe. Tiny clots can form in ports when not in use [which is why they are flushed with saline and heparin after each use] and sometimes they will be testy and not work right away. They generally have you lie down in awkward positions to help get things going, or sometimes they have you do some jumping/ jazzercise type moves to get the party started.
3. Speaking of clots, those are possibilities as well.
On occasion, people with ports have experienced clots in the port, or in the vein that the port is threaded through. Obviously, we all know the implications that clots can carry with them. This threat is reduced by the heparin flush following every use, but there is still a risk of clotting. With smaller clots, other blood thinners are used to break down the clot and prevent future clots from forming. In severe cases, the port will need to be removed.
4. Other weird mumbo jumbo.
Weird business can happen, just like with any other thing ever in the medical world. The port can be pushed around awkwardly beneath the skin, the catheter can become detached from the port itself, the catheter could get twisted. Things things are not the norm.
If anyone out there is deliberating between a picc line, port, or regular IV catheter treatments, I hope I have let you in on the magicalness that are port-o-caths. I always recommend thoroughly researching ANYTHING before you make a decision, and of course, consult your oncologist and medical team to help guide you to the best option for you.