by: Jamie Rautenberg
(The Morning of My Surgery to Remove the Line)
Every day at noon from April 2013-December 2013, the same reminder went off on my phone: “Infuse. NO BUBBLES!”
This translates to flushing the IV line in my chest with a saline syringe, followed by antibiotics, another saline flush, and finishing the process with Heparin to keep the line from clotting.
Anyone who has ever infused their medication through an IV line knows the importance of getting all air bubbles out of the syringes before hooking anything up to the line and pushing. Stroke, heart attack, and embolisms are some examples of what might occur if I wasn’t careful to rid each syringe of all air bubbles at the tip.
After over 7 months of IV antibiotic therapy, I felt pretty confident I had the routine down-even with the brain fog that lingered with me.
One December day, that changed.
While I was no longer using antibiotics, I still used my central line to deliver powerful antioxidants and hydrating saline drips into my bloodstream. The saline drips are quite different from the little syringes I pushed. A half liter bag is hooked up to an external IV line then hung at a height that allows gravity to initiate the flow of saline. Once the saline is flowing and all air is out of line, I’d clamp the saline line shut, hook up my line to it, and then resume the flow.
On that fateful December day, after assembling my daily drip, I lie back down, unclamp, and prepare for the cooling hydration. When I don’t feel the initial chill under the skin in my chest, I immediately turn to check the line.
There they were- the air bubbles- heading straight down the line and into my bloodstream.
Without hesitation, I unhook myself and begin to panic.
“What did I do?! Oh no! I fucked up! Sean, call Dr. Raxlen now!”, I scream.
And then, the sharp pain sets in. There’s a tightness in my chest that feels as if I just ran a marathon in 10 degree weather.
Sean explains the situation to nurse Dhalia.
“Ok, Ok. Calm down.”, she continues, “Here’s what I want you to do: grab a mini saline syringe, empty it, then use it to draw out as much of the air as possible. A lot of the air may still be trapped in your line. Do you have any chest pain?
I do as I’m told and get some air out of the line, but the chest pain remains.
“It hurts in my throat and in my chest, but it’s not the worst pain I’ve ever felt(which may not be saying much). I’m scared though.”
Dhalia responds, “All right, this has happened before with other patients, and as long as the pain is not excruciating and not worsening, I want you to lie on your left side and allow your body to reabsorb the air. But, if that pain level shoots up, get to the ER immediately!”
“How do I know I’m going to be ok? I don’t want to go to the hospital!”, I anxiously yell. “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!”
Since the pain seems steady, I decide to lie on my side, completely unsure if it’s the right thing to do or if I will survive the next 10 minutes. The look on Sean’s face matches the fear I feel inside. I know he feels the same uncertainty. I tell him to dial my mother. I want my mom.
“Mommy, I love you. I love you. I love you.”, I cry into the phone.
She cries, helpless on the other end.
This cannot be how I go. Seven months of aggressive treatment and I accidentally kill myself? Oh no. This is not happening. I want to live!
And then, the pain starts to recede.
“I can breathe easier. I think it’s working!”, I exclaim.
“You’re going to be ok. You’re going to be ok.”, Sean reassures me.
Even though I feel completely depleted, I’m still here. Breathing. Living. Loving.
It’s in this moment that I know it’s time to remove the line. It’s time to be done with this part of my treatment. I don’t want to live in fear of air bubbles or infections from getting the line wet. I want to shower like a normal person. I want to take baths. I want to feel clean. I want to hug people as long as I want without these pieces of plastic jamming into our bodies.
Immediately, I knew. It was time to let go of this extra weight in my chest so that I could begin again.