A toast to vein champagne

After the Great Vein Explosion of 2013, from which I still have a weird bruise/rash on my hand where the IV was inserted, I finally opted to have a PortaCath…inserted? Placed? I prefer installed, since it’s a titanium implant with a self-sealing rubber lumen and a long tube that goes into the jugular vein, and all of those words make me feel like the Terminator. I am now half girl, half robot, all lean, mean chemo machine.

The procedure is performed under something called “conscious sedation,” which is a bizarre oxymoron to me. I mean, when somebody is inserting tubing into a vein in my neck as thick as my pinky finger, I don’t want to be any kind of conscious at all. Fortunately, what they should really call it is “extremely happy adult naptime,” because I was far, far more sedated than I was conscious. Heavy on the sedation, light on the consciousness, just how I like it when I’m getting cut open with a scalpel.

I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything past midnight on the night before the operation, which of course means that at exactly 12:01am my mouth became the Sahara Desert and I was struck with an absolutely insatiable craving for potato chips. I tossed and turned in bed for a long time, trying not to focus on thirst and hunger and therefore focusing on absolutely nothing but thirst and hunger for at least two hours. I eventually drifted off to sleep, and woke up to the completely unfamiliar sound of the alarm I never, ever set anymore because I had to get to USC by 7:30am for my pre-procedure blood tests and other prep.

Somehow, when I sleep until 11am, I never wake up hungry. But when my alarm starts blaring at 6:45 in the morning, I wake up absolutely dying, dying for a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit from McDonald’s. I KNOW IT’S BAD FOR ME. But have you ever eaten one? It’s like the perfect lovechild of all the world’s best breakfast foods in one greasy, fatty disgusting sandwich. It’s also something that I associate with treating myself, since I only ever let myself have one when something horrible is happening, like I have a killer hangover or I have to go the airport at the crack of dawn. Whatever, I don’t have to explain myself to you, internet! If you don’t like the sausage, egg and cheese biscuit from McDonald’s, you’re un-American and the terrorists win.

As I was getting my blood drawn and my vitals checked in the prep room, having neither eaten nor hydrated since 7pm the night before, the nurse asked me if I was currently experiencing any pain.

“Does hunger count?” I asked. “I’m ravenous.”

Also, am I going to be out of here in time to get McDonald’s breakfast? I added in my head.

As I was lusting after my disgusting fantasy biscuit, the nurse set up my IV and it dawned on me that this the last IV I’ll be getting for quite some time. This new device does everything – it can be used to draw blood, administer chemotherapy, inject contrast for CT scans, MRIs and MUGAs and just about anything else you can think of. It can remain implanted for as long as I need it, requires no maintenance except for a monthly saline and heparin flush and means I’ll never have to deal with a blown out vein again. And best of all, no more tourniquets. I hate the way it feels as my arm goes numb and the nurse starts slapping me to try to find a vein. Never again!

Once everything was good to go, the doctor came in, obtained my consent for the procedure and let me play with the different Portacaths they had available. I actually ended up with a model known as a PowerPort, which is a deep, beautiful purple and shaped like a heart. Sadly, it is hidden underneath my skin, so no one will know that it totally matches this J. Crew sweater that I love.

I shifted myself over to a shockingly comfortable surgical table, and then the nurse asked me – I swear I’m not making this up – “Are you ready to take a magic carpet ride?” I answered with a whole-hearted affirmative and she pumped me full of my favorite drug in the world, Versed. In fact, I learned today that Versed is often referred to as “vein champagne,” a nickname I find to be unbelievably apt because it does make me feel like it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m looking fantastic in my glittery dress and the handsomest guy in the room is about to kiss me at midnight for good luck. Modern medicine is amazing.

Thanks to the drugs, the rest of the procedure plays back in my memory like a time lapse.

The first frame is the injection of the local anesthetic. I remember it stinging a bit, but I didn’t care. I was far away in another world, high out of my mind on happy juice.

Next frame. The nurse is asking me how I’m doing. It takes a massive amount of effort to bring her face into focus. “I’m dreaming about the Lion King,” I slur. I really was.

Next frame. My dream shifts. I’m in a forest somewhere. Wait, maybe a cave. There’s some tugging and pressure near my neck. I hear the doctor’s voices but I feel like they’re on a TV someone left on in the background.

Next frame. The doctor is sewing me up. I’m not sure how I know, but I know. She says, “We’re just about done!” I literally do not believe her, because it feels like I’ve been in the room for thirty seconds, tops. In reality, it took about half an hour.

Next frame. I’m being wheeled into the recovery room. The drugs are starting to wear off, but I’m sleepy. The nurse turns the lights off and lets me nap.

When I wake up for good, I discover my new hardware is pretty subtle. Take a look:

PowerPort

The top incision, near my neck, is where the catheter is inserted. The longer incision is where the pocket was created for the PowerPort, which is the roundish button below it. There’s a thin tube connecting the two and arching down into my jugular vein, where it stops just inside the entrance to my heart. The little red prick in the center of the port is where the nurse accessed it with a special needle to ensure that it was placed correctly, which it was.

All in all, the procedure was a piece of cake. Truthfully, the worst part about it was that we didn’t finish it in time for me to get that sausage, egg and cheese biscuit before McDonald’s stopped serving breakfast. Dammit.

28 thoughts on “A toast to vein champagne

  1. Vicki Shequin says:

    Yes, I remember this procedure very well. The doctor asked me what kind of music I liked and I told him ‘ The Eagles’ would sound good about now! He told me he liked my choice! Next thing I know I’m hearing the nurse singing along so I start singing too. The doctor, drug doctor and nurse all gave me a quiz after to see if I remembered what we all talked about during the procedure and were amazed I could remember most. My husband told me that when the doctor went out to tell him how I did, he said I kept them all entertained!! Loved those drugs! Propofal (Michael Jackson drug) and versed. Glad you did ok!!!

    • Ah, there was music! I didn’t remember that until I read this comment. Pretty much all I remember is the Lion King comment, and I didn’t even get the Propofol – only Versed and Fentanyl. One of the doctors who performed the procedure came into the room afterwards and I was like, “Who are you?” They gave me the drugs before he introduced himself so I literally did not remember his face.

  2. SDS says:

    Jack in the Box has breakfast all day and all night, right?? Always a decent backup option. Also, you know, churros.

    P.S. You make me feel like such a pussy for hemming and hawing about whether or not to get Lasik. I mean this as a compliment – you tackle everything in the most astoundingly brave way possible.

    • For the record I would literally rather get 5,000 ports installed than get Lasik. If you get Lasik, I will forever consider you a badass. Basically the only way I get through any of this is by closing my eyes, so if they pried my eyes open and shot lasers into them I’d pee my pants.

      • SDS says:

        Right?! I do not want to be forced to watch a procedure that includes lasers and possibly needles in my eyeballs Clockwork Orange style. Unless I could have some of this vein champagne because then I would probably just think there’s an awesome rave going on in my eyeballs.

      • That’s hilarious. I totally feel the same way…

  3. ubensmom says:

    Congrats on the port, the only way to go. A friend who was just finishing chemo, in the nick of time told me about Lidocaine and Prilocaine (a mixture) cream. You blob it on the port before chemo (heavy blob) and cover it in saran. Reapply if it’s more than an hour before chemo. You feel next to nothing when the needle goes in. Here in the land of need a prescription for everything I was able to get this without one. Shocking. It is expensive but worth every euro. I hear in fabbyland USA (sniff I miss you) you need a prescription. Move heaven and earth to get one. I use it also for weekly blood draws because I have generally become a pin cushion and not happily. My name is Susan in Germany if you want to send up a thought bubble every time a needle does not hurt. I send mine up to Peggy in Virginia.

    Also, I’m vegetarian but man do I love sausage egg and cheese McMuffins. Breakfast burritos too. Poor piggies.

    • I’ve heard about EMLA cream and other numbing solutions. Thanks for the advice! I think I’m just gonna try to tough it out for the first one. I actually don’t have a problem with needles; I just really hate tourniquets. But I might change my mind when the needle is going into my chest. Eek.

      Will certainly be sending happy thoughts to Germany.

  4. bobneary says:

    I opted for a tube inserted through by left armpit to deposit the chemo cocktail through some large valve in my chest. I don’t remember which. A little more than a foot of tubing was dangling out of my arm and I constantly had to have the dressing changed at the insertion point. I also had to put my left arm in a bag to bathe. After after a couple months the moisture and lack of ability to properly clean my arm led to mild skin decay under the dressing. Totally gross, I know.

    Once a horse jerked my arm while I had its leg cradled there, yanking a good portion of the tube out. When I got home that day I was like ‘well, I’ll just feed it back in’. My mother, however, was adamant that I leave it alone and we ended up visiting the emergency room to have it done.

    Eventually they took the stupid thing out, afraid of risking infection. From then on treatment was delivered straight into the vein. I should have opted for the surgical insert. It would have been less hassle.

    Hopefully I won’t have to make that choice again and neither will you! Keep being brave and enjoy your McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches.

    • Oh, a PICC line. A cancer-friend who had leukemia told me about her PICC, but the doctor said I wasn’t a good candidate for one because I’m a runner and you’re not supposed to sweat or get the PICC site wet. The port, I think, is less maintenance. Sorry you had such a rough time with it – I’m glad I didn’t end up getting the PICC!

      • bobneary says:

        They told me that too when I mentioned that I worked as a farrier, but I was not interested in another surgery. It’s all water under the bridge now, thank goodness!

  5. Catherine says:

    Good morning Michelle,
    I’m sitting in a hotel room in Orlando as I read this post and laughing out loud. What a delicious way to start my day. Odd- I’m now craving that breakfast biscuit from Mickey D’s!! So glad the port installation went well.
    Sounds like it will really help. FYI – La Grand Orange, or LGO to us locals, has a great breakfast as does Marstons. You deserve a break today.

  6. Jamie says:

    I had a year-long stint with strict vegetarianism…until a friend took my “hungover” (read: still drunk) ass to Mc Donalds on New Years Day. I think I ate my weight in Mc Muffins. SHAMEFUL. PS You’re awesome, and so is your writing.

  7. Barbara says:

    Michelle: You are an excellent writer. Your posts are so interesting, clever, smart, blunt. You are very brave and funny. I understand fear, anxiety, distress. I look forward to reading your posts. I wish you the best.

  8. annbeaton says:

    Michelle, were you always this funny? Or has BC unleashed your inner Tina Fey? Hilarious and controlled. Really something, considering.

  9. Liz says:

    I found your blog through ThoughtCatalog and I have to say that this was the first time in a while that I have actually laughed out loud while reading a blog. You are so down to earth that I feel like you’re the type of person that could be my friend from just reading a few posts. Your outlook on your cancer is so uplifting and refreshing. We definitely need more Michelle Lamonts in the world. Sending warm wishes from Ottawa, Canada!

    Ps. Mcdonalds breakfasts are the bee’s knees!

  10. I’m 17 and if someone asked me what my favourite part of my body is I would have to say its my PortaCath (as it is IN me I figured it counts as a part of me) Seriously it is the best thing, before they put the needle in they offer me EMLA cream, but I refuse every single time it hurts nothing like a doctor sticking a needle into a your vein or having an injection, it just feels like a small pinprick. And it’s good because you don’t have anything hanging out of you to worry about. I love the person who invented these things 🙂

  11. Sarah Karp says:

    Way to go!! Did you ever have a gus burger while living in good ol’ C’ville?? I never did (because the prospect of a fried egg on a hamburger just doesn’t sound good to me), but if you love the sausage egg McMuffin then I thought you might be a gus burger aficionado! 🙂

    • I know I ate Gusburgers because I have the receipts from them and some kind of fuzzy memories of what the inside of White Spot looks like, but all of them were consumed after 2am so I couldn’t really tell you what they tasted like. 🙂

  12. Caroline says:

    I’m a nurse and we routinely give patients Versed and Fentanyl for colonoscopies and other procedures. Most of the time patients “wake up” and say “I was awake the whole time!” and 5 minutes later don’t remember anything. Also, they ask me about 15 times how it went. Glad everything went well. I love reading your blog and I wish you the best!

  13. Maria Cerchiai says:

    Michelle,
    After each Chemo the nurses have to flush your port with saline. I always needed to drink a soda or chew candy because the taste it left in my mouth made me nauseaous. Keep fighting!!

  14. Mary says:

    Hello! I just finished reading your entire blog in about a day! And I think you’re great! I do not have cancer, or really know much about it. But your writing style is absolutely fantastic and makes me feel like I’m living this with you (I’m a 25 yr old lady too!). In a good way…ya know..whatever. You capture all the emotions (good and bad) involved in this process so beautifully. I will definitely keep reading! And thank you for sharing your story!

    I was wondering if you’ve ever thought about writing a post about your parents and how you feel about them, how they’re dealing, your relationship. etc. You’ve written an awful lot about your friends and boyfriend but Mom & Dad seem to only get brief mentions. I’d love to read about them and how they fit into all of this. Just a thought! All my thoughts and prayers are with you! Good Luck!

    Mary

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