Are Track Marks In Season? My Big Infusion Center Failure – Blood Treatment Woes

Are track marks in season? Are they ever in season? My latest trip to the infusion center for a blood treatment and bloodletting to treat a bone marrow disorder, caused by my nine months of chemo a few years back, was kind of a disaster. Wow, that was kind of a run on; maybe I should try saying it three times fast.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate going in for these treatments because they always include some kind of unpleasantness – whether it is losing consciousness, projectile vomit or just feeling like I was hit by a bus – they take a lot out of me. And then I have to take it easy for the next four days or my body goes on a serious strike. But luckily, I have had treatments spaced out and now only have to go every six weeks (way better than every other week, for real). But when I went in this last time (Monday) they couldn’t finish the treatment or bloodletting – they barely made it a quarter of the way through treatment. I can’t remember the last time my body just completely rejected needles and IVs like my body did this time (I do know that it was in April 2010 actually) but it just wasn’t happening. So, now all I have to show for the effort is a bruised and tender arm, and I have to go in to try again tomorrow.

It is kind of a ‘to do’ to get ready for these things. I have to make sure I drink 90 ounces of water beforehand, eat strategically – really focusing on stomach friendly foods and tons of protein and have a certain amount of juice right beforehand. This is to try to keep my stomach, blood pressure, body’s shock value (apparently every time I give more than 200cc of blood my body thinks it is dying on the side of a road somewhere and tries to shut itself down – fun right?) in check and maintain consciousness. I also try to work out a few hours before (to get the blood pumping) and take a really hot shower (dilates blood vessels). It might seem like a lot of prep work, but it really is necessary. Because my body seems to always want to be ‘special’ and oversensitive to pretty much anything. And losing consciousness or just my cookies is not fun – and not cute, no matter what my husband might say to make me feel better.

Last Monday I had done all of that. To be honest sometimes it is hard to get extra sleep, work out, shower, eat right and drink that amount of water while still feeling great (I mean that is a lot of water in a short time period!) all before noon, because then it is off to the infusion center for a few hours (appointment, blood work and then the treatment itself). But it was one of the days I actually did all of the above. I got my blood pumping, did the hot shower, ate what I needed to, drank the ideal amount and my stomach wasn’t grumbling. My blood work went well, without a hitch and my appointment was basically: “Your numbers are a lot higher than I would like, so we need to take at least 350cc today and another 350 in four to five weeks.” I went up to the infusion center – totally ready to do this, and then it all fell apart.

They could not get any blood from me. Typically they drain blood from my body (up to 500cc) and then give me a bunch of stuff through an IV after. But I don’t need anything they usually give me through the IV, if they can’t get the blood. And my body was just not in the giving mood. After about an hour, various IV sticks, needle pokes, buckets of hot water and exercises to encourage my body to give up the veins – nothing. My arm was a pin cushion for the sake of being a pin cushion.

I keep trying to figure out what went wrong because when it came to doing everything I needed to do to get ready, it was my best and most prepared day yet. And doing all that prep work and driving to the Comprehensive Cancer Center that is 30+ minutes away is not fun, and is both tedious and time consuming. There were two things that were different about my routine once I was at the infusion center, but even if they were mistakes I can’t believe either of those things were all that significant, even put together. First, when I gave blood for labs, the phlebotomist took my blood from a higher point on my arm than they usually do. Because of my fistula in my left arm, only my right arm is usable for treatments and blood work alike. That being said they took my blood for labs from a completely different vein (on the opposite side of my arm than what they use for the blood treatments and IVs). The second thing is that they did not soak my arm in a bucket of hot water right beforehand, because they thought they saw something promising. Like I said… mistake.

I think the biggest mistake they made was after the first blunder though. The nurse who was working on my arm miscalculated or couldn’t find the vein she thought she had located when she inserted the IV. So she dug around trying to find it. I don’t mean when a nurse gently moves the IV, searching for something they know is there with minimal movement – I mean there was forceful and aggressive movement (I would call it thrusting) without finding a damn thing. This is what I think mattered and kind of marked every other attempt.

I have rarely encountered nurses who are so forceful with an IV but I am skinny with ‘delicate’ veins. It isn’t something I think is cool, but it is a fact, which means force always leads to arm-ache and my veins can be temperamental (it also means the smallest IVs and needles are necessary in order to have any luck). When I say she was digging, I mean she we moving side to side, going in deep, making large circles with the IV. It fucking hurt! I mean every time I go in, my husband holds my hand. It isn’t necessary, but it is comforting and I appreciate it. I have never had to squeeze his hand – I’m an old IV and needle pro. But when she was digging I nearly broke his fingers off!

That didn’t work so they soaked my arm in hot water and tried again – five more sticks three other entirely new spots. And almost every time she dug around like there was no tomorrow. I took a lot of sharp breaths in and tried to slowly exhale so I wouldn’t yell for them to stop, because at this point I just wanted my damn blood to flow. On their last attempt I told them they needed to use a regular needle, no more IVs.

“But it’s the same size,” the nurse said, as though I was being unreasonable.

“I know, and I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I am telling you as someone who is a pro and has practically lived in hospitals for various parts of my life, my body does not like IVs, but it doesn’t seem to mind needles as much. If this is our last shot to get blood, I just want you to have the best chance of actually getting some. And if you do, well then you can stick me again with an IV when you’re done to give me what I need after.” Because taking the blood was always the first step, without it, an IV would be irrelevant.

It wasn’t my first request for a regular needle (that was after poke #3) but it was the first time I was insistent. I think maybe she just thought I had some phobia with IVs or something, but when I offered to get stuck twice it must have made her realize that I didn’t. I just wanted them to get my blood already. It worked at first and they got 110cc out of me. But then that spot dried up and they were done for the day. I was frustrated then and now I am not as frustrated but hate that I have to go back to do this all over again, and hope it works out this time.

For people who take blood, move a needle or an IV around trying to find a vein very gently – DO NOT DIG! It kind of puts the body on lockdown and I think that is what happened on Monday. After the first great excavation my body’s veins all clamped up. It was like my nervous system put everything on high alert – “Shrink, move, and be impossible to penetrate!”

I really do hope that tomorrow things will be different. On the plus side, the nurse who usually does my bloodlettings and treatments will be there and I coordinated Friday with her, so I’ll have someone who is familiar with me. She is great and she trusts me, but also knows me enough to know when to stop trusting me… (I have been known to not tell them to stop if I am 90% finished and know I am about to be sick because I know I can hold it until they finish – and I want them to get everything the first time!) She can tell when I have had enough, and almost always gets it the first time (also she never digs).

They wanted me to go in yesterday, but my arm had not healed enough. When someone is rough with an IV or needle, the experience leaves a ‘knot’ in the skin, which is like temporary vein scar tissue. It goes away in a few days, but is hard and makes getting into skin and finding a vein that much harder. I am hoping the knots are gone by then (every possible blood entry point was attempted and has a knot and bruise in its place). My arm is pretty bruised up and I have these lovely track marks that won’t go away for a few weeks, but I kind of always have a mark or two because of these treatments so when the purple from the bruises fade it won’t be so bad. I just keep telling myself it could have been worse (my personal best is 20 IV pokes and several burst veins before one procedure where it was absolutely necessary – they had to move on to my feet since my left arm is off limits… my arm was black for nearly four weeks) and hope that tomorrow (Friday) things will be much better.

Dear Body,

Please give up your blood to Jennifer tomorrow. She is the best and you need to lose about 350cc. Thank you so much.



Here is to a bloody good Friday! 😛


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