How a Port-a-Cath Makes My Blood Tests and Transfusions Easier

A port-a-cath reduced transfusion time and eliminated access problems

Mary Shaniqua avatar

by Mary Shaniqua |

Share this article:

Share article via email
main graphic for column titled

It had been roughly four weeks since my port-a-cath was inserted, and I was due for my next blood transfusion.

However, that transfusion would be different than previous ones — it was an exchange transfusion, when until that point, I had mostly been receiving only top-up transfusions. (In exchange transfusions, a person’s blood is removed and replaced with donor blood or plasma. In a top-up transfusion, blood or blood products are simply added without removing any blood.)

It wasn’t my first exchange transfusion. I was on an exchange program prior to the pandemic, but it was short-lived. The exchange program back then was an onerous three- or four-day process and required me to be admitted to the hospital every six weeks.

Yes, you read that correctly: three to four days.

Recommended Reading
rifaximin and SCD

What Does a Sickle Cell Crisis Feel Like?

On day one, I would go to the hospital to have my crossmatching blood tests done. Day two would involve having a femoral line inserted. Day three was transfusion day. On day four, I’d have the femoral line removed and be observed post-transfusion. If all was well, I’d be discharged.

What an inefficient use of healthcare resources, right? Not only that, it meant that I had to take almost a full week off work every six weeks. It also put a damper on my social life.

All of this was a huge contrast to my most recent transfusion experience.

A better way

I went to the hospital two days before my transfusion date for crossmatching tests. I have always had my blood tests drawn from my arm. So I was very surprised when the nurse used my new port to draw my blood. I didn’t know the port could be used for blood tests, too.

I have small veins, so blood tests usually require a few attempts for successful access. Doing the blood test via my port was quick and meant the test was successful the first time around. The blood also didn’t drip slowly, and I didn’t have to angle my body a particular way to permit the blood to flow, which is my usual experience with blood tests through veins in my arm. Nope. The flow was excellent, and I just sat normally, with no need to contort my body.

The only downside was that the blood test via a port hurt considerably more than a blood test via an arm vein. Usually, a blood test is a tiny, sharp scratch that you can barely feel. I’d rate the pain of a normal blood test from the arm at 0.5 out of 10. The blood test via my port was easily a 4 out of 10.

The port-a-cath sits right under my clavicle but above my breast. That area isn’t particularly meaty for the average person, and because I am rather slim, it’s even less so for me. I am skin and bones in that area. The lack of flesh makes an injection more painful going in.

The blood test required two injections into the port. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has to do with my port being a double-lumen catheter.

Anyway, although it was painful, the pain was short-lived. I was in the hospital for all of 30 minutes for the tests.

No pain

I was a bit scared about how painful the needles would be for the transfusion, as I suspected they’d need to be much bigger than the needles used for a blood test.

On the day of the transfusion, the nurse prepped the port area with lidocaine, a local anesthetic. This meant that except for the two lidocaine injections (which stung only slightly), thankfully, I didn’t feel any pain during the transfusion.

I am happy the nurse used this approach, because the needles were indeed much bigger, just as I had imagined. Plus, one of the needles didn’t connect to the port right away and took three strong pushes to click into place. Absent the lidocaine, I know it would have hurt like hell.

Once everything was connected, the transfusion took only a couple of hours. It was extremely fast. Also, because the port is in my chest, I could relax during the transfusion and was free to use my phone and laptop as I wished. I didn’t have to sit still or contort my body while not moving my arms for eight or more hours, as was my previous experience.

After the transfusion, the site itched more than usual, and it has been a little sore and red. But other than that, there were no genuine concerns.

I’m sure that a year or so from now I’ll be able to report back on the benefits in my life of having a port-a-cath. I hope by then I am able to also report being a bit more comfortable and accepting of the physical look of the port, too.

Note: Sickle Cell Disease News 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 Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.


Leave a comment

Fill in the required fields to post. Your email address will not be published.