I wanted to take a moment to write some information about a medical device that is near and dear to my heart (literally!). In March 2016, my doctors elected to place a port in my right chest and I’ve had it ever since. As a result, I receive criticism for it on a regular basis because I’m “not a cancer patient, so I couldn’t possibly need it”. I’ll address that, but first, what is a port?
The kind of port that I have is a Bard PowerPort. A port is a type of central line surgically placed in the chest. There are two main components: the port body and the lumen. The port body is the part where a special needle called a huber needle (non-coring) goes into the silicone center. The port body is primarily made from titanium. The other part, called the lumen, is basically a small tube placed in the superior vena cava, a large vein in the upper chest. The lumen runs all the way to the heart, which allows the medication to flow directly to the heart. There are pictures and diagrams below from the manufacturer’s website.
There are several kinds of ports, but mine is capable of handling the force of power injectors, which is the biggest difference between a plain old port and a PowerPort. Also, my port has three bumps on the edges, which is the identifier for the port type in this case. You can feel the port through my skin and sometimes you can see the outline of it through my skin. No, it doesn’t hurt me at all. I don’t even notice it’s there usually, as it is super lightweight. When it is not accessed (have a needle in it), I can take a shower and swim with no problems. When I have the needle in my chest, I have to keep the dressing dry to maintain the sterile field. That’s when I use a special plastic cover called AnchorDry for showers. It is kind of like Glad Press and Seal on steroids with a bit of adhesive around the edges. I have no activity restrictions when I am deaccessed and I just have to be careful not to bump it when I am accessed.
My surgery was a walk in the park. I was already admitted to the hospital so the general surgeons came in and helped us make a plan. Three hours later, I was in surgery and I was accessed for the first time while I was under. My shoulder was sore for a few days, but it didn’t hurt much at all.
For the most part, accessing my port is not painful. Every once in a while it hurts more than normal, but that’s normal. It is so nice to only need to be stuck for IV access once instead of 12 times a day! No, that’s not an exaggeration! One of the main reasons that I have it is because my venous access has become so poor and unreliable. In an emergency it is not practical to stick me dozens of times to get an IV. In addition, I need access a lot for infusions, blood draws, and other medications. Therefore, this is the best option for me. I’ve had various other central lines in the past, but they were all really high maintenance compared to my port. Every 28 to 32 days that my port is not accessed, I have to go to the infusion center to get it flushed with heparin, which is a blood thinner that prevents clots in the line. Clots and infections are two of the biggest risk with any central line, so it is important to take care of them.
When a port is accessed, it is a strictly sterile procedure. Gloves, needles, dressings, sponges, gauze… Everything is sterile. The person accessing the port even has to wear a mask. Sometimes I wear a mask too, but usually I just look away and take care not to breathe on the sterile area.
As I mentioned earlier, I get a lot of criticism for having it because it is so commonly associated with cancer patients. Well, it’s not just for cancer patients. People with autoimmune diseases such as mine, unreliable frequent venous access, or patients that are receiving medications that are too caustic for a peripheral IV are all candidates for a central line such as a port. It is a personal decision for each patient, and it has to be determined that the benefits outweigh the risks, but for me personally, I do not regret my decision at all. It’s been a great addition to the tools needed to help keep me as healthy as possible.