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All IV therapy is the same, right? 05/09/2012

Posted by thetickthatbitme in Treatment, Whole Person.
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As you might have noticed, I am quite the internet researcher these days. I’ve been googling around, reading about different people’s experiences with IV therapy, and I have to say, some of the things I’ve seen are downright horrifying to me. To make sense of it all, I started researching the different ways that people can be hooked up to IVs and thinking about this in the context of my own experiences being poked with needles. I admit, I couldn’t figure it all out by myself, so yesterday, I requested an interview with Dr. W and he explained some of the nuances of IV practices to me. The following is my layman’s term translation of what I found out.

There are four main ways to do IV antibiotic therapy, and some methods are more popular than others. I’ll describe a little about each one, and then we’ll compare.

Catheters

hand catheter

Here’s my hand with a catheter in it following spine surgery in 2010. I think they took it out shortly after this because it was getting kind of gross.

One method of IV therapy is to insert a catheter into a vein in the hand or arm. The catheter can then be connected to a bag containing the prepared antibiotic. (If you’ve ever had general anesthesia, you’re probably familiar with this one.) Catheters can be left in up to three days, but after that, they need to be removed to avoid infection. When a catheter is taken out, another one cannot be put back right away in the same place, as this can damage the vein. One problem this poses is that a doctor treating a patient with IV therapy for an extended period of time may run out of places to put the catheter. Having a catheter can also inhibit a patient’s normal activities (like bathing, for example).

PICC line/Intravascular device

A PICC line (PICC stands for peripherally inserted central catheter) is inserted into the cephalic vein in the arm, which runs up into the subclavian vein. This line can be left in the vein for weeks at a time, so it is often used for long-term antibiotic treatment because it is more convenient (for the doctor) than inserting a catheter every 3 days. On the downside, having a PICC line inserted can cost thousands of dollars and may or may not be covered by insurance. The dressing needs to be changed weekly by a nurse, which is another added expense. If any complications arise, this may mean time spent in the hospital emergency room.

PICC line

This is what a PICC line in someone’s arm looks like. The line has a bandage/dressing over it to keep it clean. Usually, you have to wear a sleeve over it to protect it and keep it from catching on stuff. (Image via ucdmc.ucdavis.edu)

One patient I know who was getting treated with vancomycin through a PICC line (for a non-tick-borne infection; vancomycin can only be done through a PICC line because of the nature of the drug) developed a severe allergic reaction to the adhesive that was used to tape the line. It looked like she had burns on her arm! Other people develop serious infections. How common is infection with PICC lines? In a study of 200 patients being treated with antibiotic therapy via PICC line, 15 patients had complications related to the PICC line itself, and six suspected line infections were reported. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to be one of those six people, especially if I were paying thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for this treatment. So why do doctors who treat TBIDs like to use PICC lines? A PICC line usually means that a patient only needs to be seen by the doctor every week or so, so it is certainly less work for the doctor. In between doctor visits, a nurse is supposed to assist the patient with administering the medication. I’ve seen a lot of patient testimonials online, however, that indicate that in between doctor visits, patients are basically left to their own devices. I shudder to think of what happens to these patients if they have adverse reactions to the antibiotics or if they contaminate their lines while administering their own treatments.

Implantable Portacath

This method is not very common with IV antibiotic treatment, but it does exist, so I am mentioning it. A portacath is surgically inserted under the skin into the subclavian vein (which is a big vein) in the upper chest or the arm. The port has a silicone bubble called a septum, where the needle is inserted to administer the drug. The risk of infection with a portacath is purportedly lower than with a PICC line or catheter. The downside would be having to undergo the surgery to implant the port, as well as the surgery to remove it. Though it’s considered a minor surgery, I’m sure it’s not cheap, especially if it’s not deemed medically necessary by your insurance company.

Daily (Butterfly) Needle Insertion

This is the method with which I am most familiar, as it is how I was treated for 42 days. My doctor used a 23 gauge butterfly needle (which is an itty-bitty needle originally designed to be used in babies’ heads) and inserted it into a vein on the back of my hand. The needle was connected by a line to a bag containing the antibiotic, which was prepared fresh daily in a sterile hood. I sat in a comfy chair in the doctor’s office for about 45 minutes each day with the itty-bitty needle in my hand.

Butterfly_needle

This, in my humble opinion, is the best (read: least painful) kind of needle. (Image via Wikipedia)

This method has several advantages. First, I didn’t have to worry about purchasing and storing the drug or any equipment. Everything was provided at my doctor’s office and included in the cost of my visit. I also didn’t have to worry about ‘doing it wrong’ because the doctor did all the work. All I had to do was keep my hand relatively still for 45 minutes. Aside from this time spent in the clinic, this drug delivery method didn’t inhibit my activities because I wasn’t walking around with a needle stuck in my vein. I could shower normally. I could go to the swimming pool. I could wear long-sleeved shirts and jewelry. I also didn’t get a scar like I did from the catheter in my hand after my back surgery. For comparison’s sake, I was curious about the risk of infection with the needle-in-hand method, so I asked Dr. W about it yesterday. He said that in the past year at his clinic, he has inserted more than 4,000 needles for IV infusions, and there have been zero infections.

hands

Can you tell which hand got stuck 40 days in a row?

Okay, so let’s recap the pros and cons of each method.

Method

Pros

Cons

Catheter

  • Can do treatment at home with a nurse
  • Has to be changed every 3 days
  • Risk of infection
  • Leaves a scar

PICC line

  • Can do treatment at home with a nurse
  • Only have to see doctor weekly

 

  • Risk of infection
  • Risk of allergic reaction to bandage adhesive
  • Patient may have to self-administer
  • Leaves a scar
  • Expensive

Portacath

  • Can do treatment at home with a nurse
  • Has to be surgically implanted and removed
  • Expensive

Butterfly   needle

  • Doesn’t leave a scar
  • Lower risk of infection
  • No prep work for patient
  • Have to visit doctor every day
  • Have to get stuck with a needle every day
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Comments»

1. cornusella - 05/10/2012

Cool post! …I may be misremembering–but years ago when I worked in a hospital, I recall we used to infuse vancomycin through peripheral (standard catheter) lines all the time. It’s rough stuff! Perhaps protocols have changed for the better.

thetickthatbitme - 05/10/2012

Thanks for reading. The way it was explained to me, because vancomycin is fairly caustic, it sometimes causes peripheral veins to clot off (I think the term for this is thrombophlebitis). Hopefully doctors aren’t still trying to administer it that way!


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