Attempting a vacation… Line by line

Since Patrick came into our family, we’ve made several attempts at a vacation… and all in vain. For a while, I superstitiously didn’t even want to say the word, for fear that it would end up with another infection. It seemed that the bigger the plans, the bigger the catastrophe.

But.. several months ago, when Brian’s parents suggested a trip to Yellowstone with his family, we couldn’t resist the chance to make another attempt. We booked a room, cleaned our house, packed our bags. With each step closer, I just kept waiting for the hammer to drop.

On the 5th, Patrick’s line sprung a pinhole sized leak. It wasn’t even visible.. but the line pulled air when I tried to draw back and sprayed when we flushed it. So we ran up to the hospital to have it repaired. All went smoothly, especially for 5 p.m. on a holiday. We even made it to a family dinner, just a little late.

Patrick with line newly repaired modeling some of the sterile gear required.

The next day, just after I connected the TPN to the repaired side of the tubing, Patrick stepped on the tubing. The glue used to repair a central line takes 3 days to fully cure, and the tug from stepping on it was just enough to undo the repair. It set back my packing several hours, but we ran up to the hospital and got the repair done.  We were still going to make it, darn it!

I stayed up late packing, then the next morning got up at 7 to drive Brian to work. All day long, I worked to get ready and was stunned to find myself actually loading up the car.

Patrick had an appointment with his GI in the afternoon. The plan was we’d go to the appointment, then pick Brian up from his office, and head north to Yellowstone. I was grinning ear to ear as I left the appointment, knowing we were on the road at last. I was so anxious to go that I even did Patrick’s TPN tubing change in the back seat as Brian drove so we’d get out of town before rush hour.

An hour and a half north of Salt Lake we stopped at a rest stop outside of Malad. Patrick needed a diaper change. As I was taking him out of his carseat, his tubing caught on the buckles. The repair came apart, again.

We had to decide what to do next. It was an hour and a half back to Primary Children’s. Or, it was a little more than that to the hospital in Idaho Falls. I’m not sure what possessed us, but we decided we didn’t want to turn back. We’d gone to great lengths to get a spare repair kit to bring with us, just in case. Surely the repair could be done at another hospital.

So, we made the quick but nervous drive to the hospital, arriving around 8 p.m. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center is one of the best hospitals in Idaho. But it is an adult hospital. Which meant an adult waiting room with scary things like chest pains and seizures, broken bones and more. They were kind and willing to help, but got slammed with these difficult cases all at once, so they asked if we’d mind waiting in the waiting room.

Around 10, they finally invited us back to a room. The doctor came in and we tried to explain what was wrong. He seemed a bit stumped about what we were trying to explain about one lumen of a double lumen line being broken. Finally, Brian spoke up and said, “We have a repair kit and know how to do the repair, but we need some supplies and a sterile environment.. and maybe some help.” The doctor agreed to let us do the repair.

The nurses did their best to gather up the extra supplies that we needed. they were a bit different than what I’d seen used, but I knew how to use them. They also offered a nurse to be my assistant as we worked.

The process of repairing a broken line is a simple one, but must be done just right. First, the people doing the work puts on full sterile gear, including mask, gown, and cap. The line is clamped off so it won’t bleed. Then, the line is sterilized. Using sterile scissors, the broken part of the line is cut off. This cut must be perfectly straight. The repair piece is then connected. It has a tiny metal tube inside you slide into the remaining original line. You test to make sure it flushes and draws without leaking, glue the two pieces together, cover the repair with a protective plastic sleeve, then fill that sleeve with a sterile glue to seal the work. It’s delicate, sterile work.. but not really complicated.

Or so I thought.

It was so strange to be gowning up to do this. I was nervous, but pretty confident. I’d seen this done at least a dozen times.. and twice already this week.

Once I started, though, I got scared. Because the line had been repaired (and trimmed) twice in the week already, it was too short to repair just one side. A double lumen line is made of two tubes encased in one that branch out a couple of inches past the insertion point. I had to cut the line where the two tubes were still one.. meaning we had to shut off the TPN for at least 4 hours from when I finished the repair. That added some pressure.

Repairing this section is harder, too, as there are two little metal tubes to fit into the two sides of the double lumen tube. The work was more delicate and the fit was more essential.

As I worked, I felt like a bumbling idiot. I was guiding the repair. The nurse assisting me had never worked on a line repair before, so she had to follow my instructions. Brian was talking me through it, but had to work to keep Patrick restrained. My first cut was a little crooked and leaked when flushed. The second cut fit. I slid the sleeve on and tried to fill it with glue, only to discover that the glue was slippery! I’d seen nurses struggle with this before, but never imagined that that was the problem. I’d insert the needle into the sleeve to fill it with glue and it would slip out of place. I probably spent 10 minutes or more trying to put the glue in.

Finally, it was done. We tested it, dressed it, taped it down as securly as possible, filled the line with heparin so it wouldn’t clot… And the reality sunk in.

My repair seemed really sloppy and if I’d screwed up, we were hundreds of miles from home or anywhere that knew how to fix my mistake. And Patrick’s TPN was shut off… couldn’t be restored until the line was fixed and the glue dried for at least 4 hours!

I kept my calmest face on as they did a quick discharge… then went to the car, buckled Patrick in, gave him a lollipop to keep his blood sugar up.. then sat down and cried as the impact of what I’d just done sank in.

We drove to Rexburg, arriving around midnight. Brian checked us in and we moved the luggage. Patrick loved the hotel room… a suite, so we’d have a fridge for the TPN. He stayed up playing till about 1, when I finally succeeded in singing him to sleep. Then I said some very urgent prayers for help that my feeble attempt would be good enough, and that I would regain a sense of peace and confidence. Then I fell asleep, too.

I dreamed all night of broken lines and taking lifeflight to Utah because I’d made a mistake. At 2:30 it was supposed to be safe to use the line again. I got up flushed it slowly… no leaks. Then I started the TPN. I sat up for the next half hour and checked again.. still no leaks.

In the morning, we all slept in.. exhausted. I’ve never been so grateful for room darkening curtains in my life! Patrick had slept soundly… no whimpering like he does when TPN isn’t running. I pretty well expected to find him soaked in leaked TPN when I got him up, but the dressing was still dry.

The repair held well and is still holding.

We ate breakfast, packed our bags, and got on the road again. I can’t describe the feeling of relief and joy as I watched a very happy, healthy Patrick walking along behind the luggage cart on the way out of the hotel.

We arrived in West Yellowstone early that afternoon. We’d made it!

I’m afraid the stories from the rest of our trip will have to wait for me to write them down in the morning. Needless to say, it was a wonderful week! I am so grateful to a Heavenly Father who understands the importance of small things like finally taking a family vacation and hears and answers prayers to the effect… who helps and guides and sends the Comforter when needed… Who helps to qualify a sometimes awkward, impulsive and anxious mother, with the help of a calm and constant father, to do unimaginable but necessary things – all for the good of her family and child.

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