I’ve had a Bard power port in my upper left chest almost 30 months, since December 2011. This consists of a small titanium reservoir with a layer of silicone under my skin, connected to a catheter than runs into a vein near my heart. I originally had it implanted so chemo could be administered through the port, sparing my veins. While I don’t need it right now to receive treatment–I take my targeted therapy as a pill–the port is accessed every month for my clinical trial blood draws, and every other month to administer contrast and the FDG tracer for my PET-CT scans.
Ports are really convenient. I don’t have to get poked every month, I can shower and exercise with it (unlike my former PICC line), and after so many months, the scar from the implant surgery isn’t even noticeable. All that’s visible are three tiny bumps on a slightly raised, faintly bluish area under the skin. The only accommodation it requires is a small pad between it and my seatbelt when driving. I’ve heard of people keeping a port for several years.
Here’s the hitch. My port has misbehaved fairly often since it was implanted. I am apparently very good at growing a fibrin sheath over my port’s catheter. When a sufficiently long fibrin sheath , similar to the stuff in blood clots, forms over the catheter, it’s impossible to draw blood–the suction from the blood draw pulls the loose flap of the sheath over the tip of the catheter and closes it off. The problem seems to be worse if I’m dehydrated.
To keep the port accessible, it gets flushed with drano on average every 1.5 months. No, not Drano the household chemical. Drano is my not-so-affectionate name for TPA (sometimes called Cathflo), a chemical which dissolves the fibrin sheath and clears the catheter. Typically, a small amount of TPA (just enough to fill the catheter but not go into the bloodstream) is injected and left in the catheter for about 30 minutes, then withdrawn. Usually this clears the port, although sometimes I’ve had the stuff left in overnight to clear a particularly persistent blockage–one interventional radiology xray showed I had a sheath about two inches long at the tip of my catheter. Well, everybody needs a skillset.
The fibrin sheath also sucks up the FDG tracer used for PET scans, so I often have a very bright spot on my scan right at the tip of my catheter. The radiologist can see the catheter in the associated CT scan, so he knows that hot spot is just the fibrin sheath, but sometimes I wonder if that spot could overshadow a tiny cancer nearby.
I’ve considered having the port removed surgically and just tolereating the monthly needle pokes for my labs and scans, but to be honest, my veins aren’t very cooperative nowadays either. I’m going to keep the port in as long as the drano can keep it functional. I just plan to drink a few quarts of water the day before it’s used so I’m well hydrated, and show up early for lab work in case my port needs a dose of drano.
My monthly labs today required more than the usual amount of blood. However, my port worked perfectly! I felt like celebrating, so I ordered a grande soy mocha at the clinic’s coffee stand.
I forgot to say “half-decaf.”
I expect to get an amazing amount of work done this morning and early afternoon. Just don’t expect much from me after 3 PM.