Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC line)

What is it and when is it used?

The PICC line is a type of catheter which can last up to six months and is much better than having standard catheters which need to be replaced every 2-3 days.

The line comprises a thin tube which passes through a clamp and valve and enters the body through a large vein normally on the inside of the elbow. The tube follows this main vein underneath the bicep muscle through the shoulder joint around under the clavicle (the collar bone). It then travels down and stops just short of the heart.

How is it inserted?

I started with an anaesthetic cream applied to the entry location which would numb the veins (I’m left handed so asked for it to pass into my right arm). This was left for about 30 minutes. I was expecting there would be a a strange tickling sensation or even pain to this procedure. The needle was a little longer than a normal catheter needle but I barely felt this go in. Once the vein was found, the tube was gently pushed to the correct length. The nurse was fairly experienced and using marks on the tube she could gauge how far round it had gone. Once it had passed into my shoulder, she asked me to look down and to the right to help the tube pass downward at a branch in the neck. Once located, she tested the line to make sure blood could flow out and a saline flush could flow inwards. Then a dressing was prepared and applied and the valve was locked off.

PICC line inserted at right elbow.
PICC line inserted at right elbow.

As an additional safety check, I was sent to the x-ray department to check the tube was correctly located.

I asked to look at the x-Ray and although I could see the line, it was difficult with untrained eyes to follow it’s complete path.

I sometimes get a little nervous (perhaps more at the thought) of these procedures, but I can honestly say, they could have done this without me noticing. The only thing I felt was a slight pressure in my arm as the needle was inserted.

Since having the line in it’s been much more comfortable and flexible to live with and I can barely feel the intravenous chemicals passing through using this system when compared to the standard catheters.

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