My Guide to a PICC Line

The first thought that ran through my mind when the doctor mentioned that I needed a PICC line was: what on earth is a picc line? I didn’t bother asking at this point as I knew it was happening just before I get discharged from the ward and that was in a few days.

It escaped from my mind until the day arrived. A PICC line is similar to a cannula, except they perform a small surgery under local anaesthesia and the line goes through a vein in your arm that leads into your chest. This line is easier for people having a lot of infusions, chemotherapy, and blood tests as the line can stay in until treatment is finished. The line has to be cleaned and flushed with saline once a week to prevent infection and clots, and the day after it was inserted. They can take blood and give infusions a lot easier than finding a new small veins in your hands every time. Plus, small veins might not be able to handle the toxic drugs, you may find the skin to be sore around the small veins.

What’s the PICC line procedure?

Three nurses came into the room I was staying in, and they performed the small surgery in my room. They set up the gear around me: tools, the ultra sound machine, and lots of disposable tissue paper.

She attached the ultra sound machine wires to my chest, and covered my body from the waist up with paper. She also covered my arm and built a wall so that I couldn’t see the process (this was my request) I’m a bit of a wetty when it comes to blood. She cleaned my arm with alcohol and injected the area with local anaesthetic. We waited a few minutes for that to kick in, and while we waited, we made small talks. The other two nurses standing by were chatting to me as they knew I was nervous. And while I was chatting to them, the nurse performing the procedure was cracking down with it, I didn’t even realise. It took about 30 minutes in all. She used the ultra sound machine to find the vein and make sure the line was in the vein properly. It was a painless procedure and barely noticeable.

How I Felt About The PICC

After the PICC line was inserted, it felt uncomfortable and sore. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t look at it. It was a foreign part of me. They gave me a bandage to keep the buds from dangling everywhere, and to keep it together. Which I liked because I hated looking at it, it was a constant reminder that I was sick, that I had cancer.

Sleeping that night was tough, I kept thinking about it. It was a constant pressure and pinch on my arm, I felt like I couldn’t sleep on my right side, in fear I would pull it out.

After a few weeks of having the PICC line, I was starting to get used to it. I didn’t notice it there unless I needed to shower and put that waterproof bandage over my arm. Or if the nurse cleaned the PICC line, I couldn’t watch that process either, it made me feel queasy. Sleeping was a lot easier, I finally felt comfortable sleeping on that side and the pinch/pressure disappeared.

My PICC line tips

1) Always keep it covered.

It will help prevent infection. And, it can become a nightmare with clothing. Keeping it covered makes it easier to put and remove clothing items on and off.

2) Don’t think about it.

Thinking about it just makes you aware that it’s there, obviously stay sensible and don’t put yourself at risk of infection. But try and not to think about it too much, it can become quite stressful and tiring for your brain.

3) No sudden movements.

Definitely don’t lift your arms up suddenly as this can move the line, and you’ll need it taking out as soon as possible. So be careful, don’t lift your arms above your head.

4) Be mindful of water.

You don’t want water entering the PICC line or the incision. The incision is an open wound, so please at all costs, be aware of water. Shower with the waterproof bandage, and check the weather forecast if you’re planning to go out.

5) Let doctors know you have a PICC.

This one is a life saver – if you have any unplanned trips to A&E then let them know you have a PICC line as this can save you from another needle. Some nurses don’t like using the PICC line as they aren’t familiar with it, but it’s worth a try.

6) Don’t miss an appointment!

This one is a no-brainer, but try and attend all of your appointments to clean your PICC as you don’t want to put yourself at risk of an infection.


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