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Venous Access Device: What to Expect at Home

Your Recovery

You have had a procedure to give you an access device or a tunnelled central venous catheter. You may also hear it called a Broviac, a Hickman, or a central line. There may be 1, 2, or 3 external lines (or lumens) available to use. There is a small cuff beneath your skin on the central line to help keep the line in place. You will now be able to get medicine, blood, nutrients, or other fluids with more comfort. You won't have to be stuck by a needle every time. For some people, blood for lab tests can be drawn from the access device.

You will have an incision. The incision will leave a scar that fades with time. The site may be sore for a day or two. You may need to take 1 or 2 days off from work. You may have this access device for weeks or months.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to feel better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Talk to your doctor about what activities you can do. You may not be able to do sports or exercises that use the upper body, such as tennis or weight lifting.
  • You may not be able to go swimming. Check with your doctor.
  • Don’t lift or carry anything heavier than 4.5 kg (10 lbs.) for 1 week. Slowly do a little more activity every day, as you feel ready, for the week after the procedure.

Incision care

  • You may have a dressing over the cut (incision) the doctor made. A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it.
  • Keep the first dressing in place until the morning after your procedure, then change the dressing as directed. If you were given instructions about how to change the dressing at home, follow those instructions carefully. Your doctor may arrange for home care or an outpatient clinic to do your dressing changes.
  • It is very important to keep this site clean and dry.
    • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off.
    • If you have stitches, your doctor will arrange for them to be removed.
  • To help prevent infection, take a shower instead of a bath. You may shower 24 to 48 hours after the procedure, if your doctor says it’s okay. Cover the procedure site with waterproof material, such as plastic wrap, so it doesn’t get wet. Do not scrub the procedure site. Pat the site dry.
  • Avoid baths, hot tubs, and swimming. Do not use any creams, lotions, or ointments on the procedure site, unless your healthcare provider tells you to.
  • Flush the device if your doctor tells you to do so.

Medicine

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, ask your doctor if and when to start taking them again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.

Other instructions

  • Always carry the medical alert card that your doctor gives you. It contains information about your device. It will tell healthcare workers that you have a venous access device in case you need emergency care.

Devices with catheters

  • Do not wear jewellery, such as necklaces, that can catch on the catheter.
  • Wear loose clothing over the catheter for the first 10 to 14 days. When getting dressed, be careful not to pull on the catheter. Avoid clothing that rubs or pulls on any part of the device.
  • Never touch the open end of the catheter if the cap is off.
  • Never use scissors, knives, pins, or other sharp objects near the catheter or other tubing.
  • If your catheter has a clamp, keep it clamped when you are not using it.
  • Fasten or tape the catheter to your body to stop it from pulling or dangling.
  • Don’t bend or crimp your catheter.
  • Always wash your hands before you touch your catheter.
  • If your device gets broken or torn, fold it over between the damaged area and where it goes into your skin. Tape the line to your skin and cover it with a sterile dressing, if you can. Call your healthcare provider right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness around the line.
    • Red streaks leading from the area around the line.
    • Pus draining from the area around the line.
    • A fever or chills.
  • You have liquid leaking from around the line.
  • There are cracks or leaks in the tube.
  • You have pain or swelling in your neck or arm.
  • The line becomes clogged.

Watch closely for any changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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