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Chemo Veins or Pickles?

Chemotherapy can impact your veins and bruise egos.
PUBLISHED March 14, 2018
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician and a writer. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Recently, he published his book, This is Remission: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor's Memories of Treatment, Struggle, and Life, available on Amazon.
"I'm a very hard stick," I told the nurse.

"I've been doing this for years," she replied confidently, with a smile of course.

"Yeah, I've been doing this for years, too," I thought to myself. Two nurses and five sticks later, I had an IV in my arm. But why? Why does it keep happening like this?

Well, the first reason the repetitive sticking keeps happening is because chemotherapy brutalizes veins, turns them funny colors and makes them curvy and just, well, plain weird looking. Mine veins are horrible. As are many survivors who have had chemotherapy. I've had little kids ask me about the "pickle-looking things" on my arm. I've never quite imagined anything on my arm looking like pickles, but kids, ya know?

The second reason I get needled and poked so much is because, well, folks don't always listen. Look, if you're confident in your ability to get an IV, that's awesome. I am sure that you do a good job with many other people who have bad veins. However, I'm not here for the beer story later. "So then this dude told me he was a hard stick because of chemo and that's when I... " Which reminds of a story.

A while back, I was in Tallahassee and had to make a special trip to the ER. I, of course, shared the whole "bad veins, hard stick" scenario with the ER nurse. He then proudly told me while swabbing my arm with an alcohol pad, "Yeah, I was just told the same thing by the patient down the hall who had chemotherapy. I got him on the first stick."

"Oh here we go again," I thought. Since I was not in the middle of a life-threatening situation, at that moment, I just rolled with it. I wanted to provide this fellow with an on-the-job learning experience.

Eventually, I lost track of the bad sticks, misses, stings and curse words. But after blowing out the back of my hands, a shoulder and several other locations, he finally got a vein – in my forearm – with, like, some needle they use on babies.

Look, here's my take on it. I don't care what any hospital committee says about starting IVs, etc. I've been getting swiss-cheesed for years now. If you can't get me on the third stick, bring in that ultra-sound machine. It works!

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