First things first, what’s a port? A Port-A-Cath (it’s proper name) is an implant that allows for easy access to one’s veins. You will not be able to see the actual port, however, there is a visible portion that looks like a little bump just under your skin (you can see mine just above my shirt collar in the picture). The membrane (under the little bump) is made of self-sealing silicon which allows for repeated needle punctures. An average port can last for several years, handle an average of 2,000 punctures and pose a very low risk of infection. There are many different makes of ports: larger, smaller, high flow rate, low profile, etc. Make sure you talk to your doctor about which is the best fit for you, your lifestyle, and your treatment. Read about why I got a port here.
As stated above, there are many different ports, and placement is unique in each individual, so you will have to go through some trial and error to identify what works best for you. Below are some tips to get you started.
Before accessing the port:
- Make sure you’re drinking lots of water. Staying hydrated insures an easy puncture and good blood flow.
- Wear something that allows you to easily expose and access your port. Think button down shirts, scoop & V-necks, tank tops, they even make port accessible clothing.
- Bring your port card! Some places require you to bring the port card given to you by your doctor at surgery. Especially if you are going to a new facility or having surgery. They need to see the card to access your port.
- Your doctor can write you a prescription for lidocaine cream to help numb the needle puncture. If so, put on about an hour before your appointment and cover with a piece of plastic wrap secured with tape.
During port access:
- There is a bit of a set-up that takes place when accessing a port, so if you would like to have a numbing spray applied, make sure you ask while they are getting everything ready.
- The nurse will begin by sterilizing the area. Once that is done and they are getting ready to insert the needle be sure to stick your chest out and bring your shoulder blades together. This helps get your port in the best position for a clean puncture.
- Take a deep breath just before the access. This helps highlight your port and makes the poke pretty much painless.
- If you are having a blood draw, once the needle is in turn your head to look at your opposite shoulder. Your inclination is to look at the nurse as you’re chatting with them, but they will be on your port side. Positing your head/neck to look at your port shoulder can restrict blood flow and create issues.
After accessing the port:
- Before taking out the needle, the nurse will “flush” your line. They use something that, upon injection, can create an odd taste in your mouth. If it happens it’s very quick, with your taste returning to normal in seconds.
- Take a deep breath as the nurse is pulling out the needle.
- Your nurse will cover your port with a piece of gauze or a band-aid. Just to blot any remaining drops of blood. There will never be any real volume. They ask that you leave the gauze on for an hour and then you are free to remove it.
*It is important to have your port flushed once every 3 months. Note that every time your port is accessed for blood draws or infusions, it is flushed.