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Lymphedema Woes: Part 1

Lymphedema can cause problems when you run out of veins.
Last week, I had to go into the hospital because of a urinary tract infection (UTI) that got out of control. It had been awhile since I had dealt with the ER, and I remembered half way through the admitting process why I will never be admitted through the emergency room again.

I have bad veins. I had bad veins in my left arm before I had chemotherapy. They only put in a port for those women who were going to need extensive chemo, but I think they have changed their tune in the past 30 years. Since no one could use my right arm, I have had no sticks there since 1990, which was the year I got lymphedema – but that story is part 2 of this blog. Suffice it to say, I could only use my left arm for sticks or IV or blood pressure.  

The right arm has been off-limits – I would write on it – “Don’t use this arm,” anytime there was a chance I might be out or not able to tell someone not to use it for blood draws, etc. I haven’t even had blood pressure taken. It is drilled into you that to have sticks or blood pressure or anything invasive can lead to another bout of infection.  

So back to the story. I was in the ER being admitted for antibiotic IV for an infection that had left me septic.  

Since having chemotherapy in that arm, every time someone came close to me with a needle, I would say, “How good are you? I have bad veins.” They would either say, “I am great!” or they would put down the needle and go get someone else.  

But in the ER, time is of the essence so when the nurse came in to start the IV, I was ready – sort of. They drew blood when I arrived at the ER to confirm I had an infection. It was an OK stick. It wasn’t great because any time someone comes toward me with a needle I go back to chemo and cancer. But my left arm was holding up – not great, but OK.  

But it was running out of options. Did I say I have really bad veins? They are tiny, they roll and they are slippery. The few good ones have been used so much they blow easily and are filled with scar tissue. OK, sorry, I had nothing to do with it.  

This nurse seemed to know what she was doing, and after slapping my arm what felt like a few thousand times, she turned my wrist over. I said, "Where are you going with that?" just as she jammed the needle into the worst vein I have. It is filled with scar tissue, and I told her that as I was clenching my whole body, tears running down my face. Then she just punched through the tissue, which left me crying on the table. But it was in. But I was sobbing and it hurt, as did the antibiotic she began administering, which must have had molecules the size of raisins. This IV hurt the whole two days it was in, and it hurt really bad when they were administering the antibiotic.   

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
Kathy LaTour is a breast cancer survivor, author of The Breast Cancer Companion and co-founder of CURE magazine. While cancer did not take her life, she has given it willingly to educate, empower and enlighten the newly diagnosed and those who care for them.
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