My first experience receiving IV antibiotics through a PICC line

How 28 days with a new tool proved fruitful for columnist William Ryan

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by William Ryan |

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New medicine can be scary, especially for a person with cystic fibrosis (CF), because all medications come with side effects, some predictable and some not. When you couple new meds with an entirely new way to take them, it can be a daunting double-whammy. However, my journey using a PICC line for the first time taught me that it’s not as bad as I’d thought it would be.

It was a crisp autumn day last year, and I was stuck inside a hospital room, pacing back and forth. I’d been there two days longer than expected (and needed), and I was going home that day. But first, I needed a PICC line inserted into my arm.

I was fighting a small MRSA infection that popped into my bloodstream while I battled pneumonia. I was admitted to the hospital on a Tuesday, and the pneumonia was gone by the weekend. But that’s when the blood infection was found, which meant I needed to continue a course of the antibiotic nafcillin at home for 28 days. Since standard IVs don’t last that long and can’t be used at home as safely, I needed the PICC line.

The procedure to put in the line was fairly simple. The technician did an ultrasound of my left arm to look for a vein that led to access to my heart. She then inserted the PICC line, and that was it.

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This event felt like another step toward joining the larger cystic fibrosis community, since many people with CF use at-home PICC lines. Since I’ve lived a fairly healthy life due to my rare nonsense mutations, I’d never had a PICC line. But now, while I still can’t take any CF modulators and don’t need a lung transplant, I can check using a PICC line off my list.

When I got back to New Jersey from the New York City hospital, my wife and I went to my parents’ house to meet a nurse, who showed me how to change the IV of antibiotics and gave me a bag to carry the mechanical pump.

For 28 days, I slung around the bag, the pump, and the long IV lines. Within those 28 days, I experienced and expressed two competing emotions.

There were days I embraced the bag, feeling like Indiana Jones with his sash. Of course, I wasn’t trying to save the world, but I was saving myself from an infection that could’ve gotten worse if I didn’t have the PICC line or IV.

On other days, however, I was too tired to get out of bed and didn’t want to do anything. Handling the pump and trying to do simple activities like carrying groceries, walking the dogs, or helping my wife decorate rendered me fatigued. Still, I knew that if I forgot doses or didn’t take the medicine, I’d be sicker.

I also felt self-conscious with the bag. I’d try fighting those feelings by remembering others who regularly have to use PICC lines in public. Sometimes, though, I couldn’t shake those feelings, and I’d get in my head about it, not wanting to be seen.

Fighting doubt and appreciating the result

Once a week, the same nurse visited me for bloodwork to check how well the antibiotic was fighting off the MRSA infection. The nurse would also change the dressing around the PICC line because it gets gross after being used for a week.

Generally, the PICC line didn’t bother me, but taking a shower was definitely annoying. I had to disconnect from the IV and protect the line with a cover I purchased, based on a recommendation from the technician who inserted my PICC line. I knew that as long as the line didn’t snag on anything and I covered it up at all times, I wasn’t going to get another infection. Meanwhile, managing the doses every morning became an easy routine for me.

A young man wearing a leather jacket and glasses poses in front of a brick wall featuring a poster of the Clash. He's carrying a machine to infuse antibiotics through an IV and PICC line, but it's just out of the frame.

William Ryan slyly hides his machine in front of a poster of the Clash on the last day of his antibiotics. (Courtesy of William Ryan)

On Thanksgiving weekend, during a trip to Asbury Park, New Jersey, I finished the nafcillin. That Sunday morning, I got up and unplugged the IV one last time. The next day, the nurse removed the PICC line from my arm. That last event was the easiest part; I couldn’t even feel it.

I felt 100% as healthy as I could for the first time in a month, thanks to the antibiotics streamlined into my body via the PICC line. That power eclipsed what pill antibiotics could’ve done. I’m beyond grateful for the medical advancements that made it possible for me to carry that small bag with the pump and IV.

Hopefully, though, I won’t have to do it many more times. The world can only handle so much Indiana Jones.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Anthony M Palmiero avatar

Anthony M Palmiero

Great article Will. Love ya

Helen Palmiero avatar

Helen Palmiero

Will - This is yet another informative, well-written article that taught me even more about you and your CF. Thank God for the PICC line and other medical advancements in every field. Thank God you navigated that PICC line so well. I must admit, being the worrier I am, that I was terrified every day you had the PICC line in. I mean, anything could have happened at any time - a snag, a too strong accidental pull, anything. But from what I saw, you got through it amazingly well. I'm so proud of you for being so careful. I'm so proud I know you. I love you, Helen


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