Becoming a Human Pin Cushion

When Dr. Cancer gave me the news that I’d need chemo, we talked about a ton of stuff in a fairly short window of time. One of the topics covered was whether or not I should get a port, since the chemo drugs are administered through IV. It’s always been a struggle to find a vein on me for blood draws, so we all agreed that that the port was a no-brainer.

At the end of that visit, I met with the scheduler to deal with the logistics for all of the stuff I learned that day. She was first going to get health insurance authorization, and then I’d be called to schedule everything.

She dutifully called a few days later, and various follow-up appointments were scheduled … but not the port installation. All the medical professionals seemed to talk about this like it was not a big deal, why do I keep asking about it … ? After riding them about this for a bit, I finally got through to an oncology nurse to discuss it, and we agreed that I should have it installed about two weeks prior to leaving for London, so it’d be fully healed by the time I left. She transferred me to the scheduler for vascular surgery.

Surgery!? Did I hear that right? Yep, apparently getting a port installed is indeed a big deal! Well, not like having a mastectomy – it’s still minor surgery – but I learned that it would involve a full day with general anesthesia.

Today was that day. The surgery was scheduled for 1:30pm, which is horrible, because you can’t eat or drink – not even water! – after midnight the night before. And I’m a morning eater! I did my best to sleep in but was still up by 6:30am. Within a few hours I was pretty darn grumpy.

The procedure was in a different facility (but on the same campus) from where the mastectomy took place, and it was a very different process. Pre-op was an open area (not a private room, like for the mastectomy), sectioned off with curtains, with lots of patients, and friendly nurses rushing about.

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Alert! Alert! It’s a limb!!! This bracelet was placed on my right arm. They cannot do a blood draw or take blood pressure from that arm ever again, due to the lymph node biopsy. Which is why they didn’t try it for today’s lab work.

Shortly after getting settled in my gown and socks, a sweet older gentleman hobbled into my area and introduced himself as “‘Henry’ from the lab.” He told me all about his life; he is nearly 70 and is looking forward to retirement. He expertly inserted a needle into my left arm to draw some blood. I did not feel a thing; you can always tell when your blood draw is being done by an experienced professional phlebotomist. Well, but, unfortunately, no blood came out! He poked around for a bit (ok, now it’s starting to hurt) … no luck. So he moved on to try two or three veins in my hand. He managed to get less than half the blood he needed.

A nurse came over and put some warming packs on my arm and a few minutes later she gave it a try. She used some numbing magic and it really did not hurt, but she too was only able to get about 2 ml of blood out; my veins would just collapse as soon as they’d get the needle in. I guess dehydration is really a thing.

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I think I count five holes in this picture… ? One of them was used for the IV.

By this point there were three people trying figure this out, all very flustered and not sure what to do. So I said, “You know, I just had my mastectomy on June 20 and they did labs. I read them and most things were in or close to the ‘normal’ range … ?”

Everyone liked this idea so they pulled up my old labs. My hemoglobin count is a little low – maybe I need more iron in my diet? – but generally the nurse thought they looked fine. So she called the anesthesiologist and he completely agreed. The whole experience was interesting with everyone wondering, “why we are doing this?”

Right on schedule the vascular surgeon came to my little curtained area to introduce himself and explain the procedure to me. I’d have two dressings: one for the area where the port enters my vein, and one for the port itself, which will live happily just below my skin once it heals.

Finally they wheeled my gurney (last time I walked) into the operating room. At the mastectomy, they inserted a block into my back and I don’t remember anything after that. This time, they injected a relaxation drug into my IV (wowwwww, that was groooovy…), then had me breathe into an oxygen mask … and I don’t remember anything after that.

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I was SO HUNGRY!!! In this pic you can see the two dressings. The port is under the bottom dressing.

I am pretty sure I woke up in the operating room and have a vague recollection of being wheeled into the recovery room. This was also quite different from before; another open space and nurses milling about. My recovery nurse sat with me and chatted for a bit – she too had had breast cancer about 15 years ago and it seemed like her experience was similar to mine, so it was nice to chat with her.

Finally I was brought back to the same room where I’d spent my pre-op. The IV was removed and Tad came to get me. I’m not allowed to drive for 24 hours but within a couple of hours of waking I felt completely normal again. The port has been installed on the left side so as not to interfere with the mastectomy area; so just as I’m getting some strength and range of motion out of my right arm, my left arm is now constrained. Yay.

So that’s done. One more thing to check off my cancer bucket list…

3 thoughts on “Becoming a Human Pin Cushion

  1. Holy Moley-You poor thing. The title of this post sure is on point: “Human Pin Cushion” totally appropriate. It probably felt really good when it was over. Hopefully the relaxation drug made up for it, at least a little.


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