I have been thinking about how my life changed with the onset of Covid and my milrinone treatments. I think I am turning into several cartoon characters from my youth. I thought I would share with you some humorous takes on how my life now resembles Looney and other tunes.
The first time I felt like I was on a Saturday morning cartoon show was when I began to wear a mask every time I left my condo unit. I had an assortment of disposable and cloth masks. It didn’t seem to matter which type of mask I wore. The mask would begin to creep up into my eyes and obscure my vision. It wasn’t long before I was my one of my favorite cartoon characters – Mr. Magoo!
Of course, I loved watching the misadventures of Mr. Magoo every Saturday morning, and I still contend that the Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol is the classic by which all other versions must be judged! But just because I liked watching Mr. Magoo didn’t mean I wanted to be Mr. Magoo; however, it seems like this will be my fate until I stop wearing these masks. I have a long time of Magoo stumbling ahead of me, as I will have to wear a mask whenever I go out for three months after my heart transplant surgery – Covid or no Covid.
Lest you think I am exaggerating about the bumbling Magoo moves, I’ll remind you of an incident I wrote about earlier. I thought I was walking into the doorway of the waiting room at a car dealership when I had my car serviced. Instead, the mask concealed it was actually a floor length glass window and I walked right into it. Just a few days ago, I was using the self-checkout lane at CVS. After I finished, I turned to go and almost walked into a display of small hand sanitizers. In my defense, who puts a display right in the line of traffic in the self-checkout area?
I hate to admit it, but the character I resemble most with my milrinone experience is Wile E. Coyote. I’m sure you recall the cartoon predator who stalked (unsuccessfully) the Road Runner? The parallels are creepy. The milrinone pump imitates the trademark “beep beep” (or was it “meep meep”) of the Road Runner. For purposes of this post, we will just refer to the pump/PICC line/and infusion tubing as my nemesis, the PICC Runner.
As you probably recall, Wile E. Coyote ordered a number of products to help him trap the Roadrunner. I found a website that gave a list of all the devices ordered and here are just some examples: Tornado Kit, Rubber Band (for tripping Road Runners), Jet-Propelled Pogo Stick, instant icicle-maker, female Road Runner costume, an anvil, a weather balloon, iron bird seed, and a street cleaner’s bin. (One wonders how Wile E. Coyote could afford to buy all these items, as he didn’t seem to have an income or a mailing address.)
If you recall, these were very diverse items, but always sold by a company known as Acme. I can only conclude that Acme is the 1950s and 1960s version of our Amazon. It seems like even without an income, Wile E. was able to afford Acme Prime, because the packages always seemed to show up immediately.
While there are some parallels between me and Wile E. Coyote, I must point out that Wile E. was trying to capture and eat the Road Runner. I just want to live in peace, and minimize the inconvenience, fuss and annoying beeping of the PICC Runner. The first inconvenience came with the realization that you cannot get the PICC line and it’s dressing wet. How was I to take a shower?
If you ever have to use a PICC line, you will be working with a nursing/pharmacy service to make sure you have the knowledge and supplies you need to live with reasonable comfort and confidence. Happily, the nurse who taught me how to change the pump and flush the blood draw line gave me a few plastic shower sleeves. The sleeves had a thin elastic on each end to keep the plastic in place. These worked reasonably well as long as I was careful to stand in the shower in a way that did not send massive streams of water onto the sleeve. They lasted for maybe 3 showers before the elastic on the ends would start to lost its grip on your arm.
Imagine my horror when the pharmacist, who compounded my medication and took orders for supplies, told me that plastic shower sleeves were on back order – till October! What would I do? Sure, you can probably fashion some type of covering out of plastic wrap and rubber bands, but they would not be as user friendly or secure. So, I went to Wile E. Coyote’s new version of Acme – Amazon Prime – and googled plastic shower sleeves. Lo and behold, I found a couple of vendors selling plastic shower sleeves and purchased a box of 25. (One has to wonder: If I can find these on Amazon, why can’t the nursing/pharmacy service that is assigned to me? Maybe they only have Acme Prime?)
After I got out of the hospital, I realized I had an upcoming hair appointment to cut and dye my hair. While I would wear several layers of smocks during the appointment, I decided to wear a plastic shower sleeve to make sure the PICC line had extra protection. Then I started to think about showering for the next few days after the appointment. In my experience, some of the dye residue comes off in the shower. I didn’t want to take the chance that dye would get on the PICC line through the plastic sleeve. Fortunately, my nurse told me that I could go on-line and also find a reusable shower sleeve made of more durable plastic. Just like Wile E., I immediately ordered from my Acme. But again, my purchases were made to protect the PICC Runner, not to harm it!
However, I began to question the motives of my PICC Runner when I was relaxing the next Sunday afternoon. Out of nowhere, I heard “Beep Beep” coming from the PICC Runner. Since it had only made noises in the past when I was starting up the pump after a change in medication pouches, it scared the heck out of me. I can understand why Wiley might look a little tired and harassed after hearing “Beep Beep” constantly.
I looked at the screen to see the words “Alarm Unattended”. “Unattended!”, I barked at the PICC Runner. “What in the world do you mean unattended? Don’t I cater to your every whim, washing my hands and using alcohol wipes every single time I have to touch or disconnect or come into contact with your line that I have no skin left on my hands?”
“What do you mean unattended?” I snapped as I continued the tirade. “Of course you’re attended! I take my own money and buy supplies to make sure you are secure and protected. I don’t want to hear it! Just cool it with the Beep Beep!” I followed the instructions and restarted the pump. All was fine until 15 minutes later when I heard “Beep Beep” and looked at the screen. Once again, it said “Alarm Unattended”. This was getting old fast. That was the last of the beeping for that day. Maybe PICC Runner decided to take a nap. Who knows? I was happy to have some peace and quiet.
Of course, I contribute to the delinquency by putting new batteries in the pump each time I change the pouch. So, I am the one powering the “Beep Beep” and all the annoying comments that otherwise mute PICC Runner displays on the screen. Alas, the batteries are necessary to get the milrinone into my heart.
Speaking of batteries, they started a new Wile E./PICC Runner confrontation. Last Thursday night, I changed out the pump and medication pouch. I put two fresh batteries in the pump. I knew they were fresh because the pharmacy had sent me a new box of batteries covered in cellophane. They could not possibly have been used before; however, the batteries registered at less than full, at ¼ to ½ power. Something told me to set aside these batteries for future reference. I put in another set from the same box and they registered below full but had at least ½ power.
I monitored the power level throughout the next day. The power was decreasing much faster than usual. Around 6:30 in the evening, I heard “Beep Beep”. I checked and it said “low battery alarm”. Yet there was still ¼ power left. Since I was changing to a new pump and new batteries two hours later, I decided to try to outlast the low battery alarm. It went off every 5 minutes until 7:30 and then I didn’t get “Beep Beep”. I got a continuous alarm sound. I looked at the screen and saw “Alarm battery empty”. I had no choice but to change the batteries. I decided to put in the batteries I had set aside, the ones that initially said ¼ to ½ power. Thankfully, the PICC Runner remained silent for the next hour. I changed over the pump an hour later and went to bed.
The next morning after my walk, I got ready for a shower. I now use the guest bathroom because it is an easier shower to get into, and there is a small seat where I can set the plastic wrapped fanny pack. Because this bathroom doesn’t have a lot of storage space, every morning I have to haul all my shower stuff from one bathroom to the other and then back again.
I have to admit that my head was probably not on straight that morning, maybe because I was tired of changing dud batteries and listening to a beeping PICC Runner. I finally had everything in the guest bathroom and was ready to take a shower. I put some cleanser on my face, turned on the shower, jumped in, and started to splash water on my face to rinse off the cleanser. It was at that moment I realized "Oh man, I don't have the shower sleeve on." Thankfully, I didn't get any water except maybe a drip or two on my arm. I jumped out of the shower and threw on the shower sleeve quickly.
I finished my shower, turned off the water, and was starting to squeegee the door, happy that no other adventures had occurred. Then I heard “Beep Beep”. I glared at the PICC Runner, figuring the batteries in this pump were also duds. I quickly opened up the plastic bag with the fanny pack and looked at the pump screen. It said: “Alarm down occlusion”.
I did not have the trouble shooting guide I printed out from the pump manufacturer’s website, but I knew occlusion means obstruction, which in turn means something was stopping the milrinone from flowing through the tubing. I took the shower sleeve off so I could examine all the tubing and the beeping stopped, and the alarm message disappeared from the screen. I assume that maybe the wide rubber band on the end of the sleeve caught on the clamp and caused it to shut, thus stopping the flow of the milrinone. I was happy that the PICC Runner was rendered silent.
Around this time, I had to put some gas in my car. This would be my first experience getting gas while tethered to this infusion pump. I had to plan carefully because I wanted to make sure that both the tubing and the fanny pack with the pump and pouch were protected while I was pumping gas. I also I wanted to make sure the tubing did not wind around anything, for example, the hose to the gas pump. The last thing I wanted was to get the tubing tangled around something and cause the PICC Runner to begin another round of relentless beeping.
The rain forecast gave me the idea to wear a raincoat to the gas station because it was full and long enough to cover the fanny pack, all the tubing and the PICC line. I felt a bit stupid because it was 73 degrees and I was way overdressed. Happily, the raincoat did cover everything and I was able to pump gas without incident, although I probably looked eccentric. I related my experience to a friend, and he said: “You’re right to cover up like a spy from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” I laughed and felt that this was a compliment because I initially thought he meant Natasha Fatale but as I recall, the outfit she typically wore during the cartoon episodes was a strapless evening dress. Alas, the fanny pack adds a little bulk under the coat so perhaps he was referring to Boris Badenov. Whatever, I probably did look like a cartoon character at the gas station but thankfully the PICC Runner behaved and no one was exposed to the “Beep Beep” of a childhood cartoon show.
After having to live with the PICC Runner for six weeks, I can see why Wile E. Coyote always looked worn out and dejected each Saturday morning. You try living with the refrain of “Beep Beep” blasting in your ear throughout the day and trust me, you would look frazzled too. I have decided that the solution might be to order something new from Acme. It dawned on me that the PICC Runner might be complaining because she needs a new outfit. The Fashionista in me can relate to that. I think I’ll hunt for a chic PICC cover on-line.
Unless you’re 6 years old, I doubt that anyone longs to be a cartoon character, and certainly not the sad sack Wile E. Coyote. Then I thought about it. There are some things I have in common with Wile E. We are persistent and we are resourceful (or maybe it’s Acme that is resourceful!). Definitely the one thing we hopefully share is that we are indestructible. All I ask is please don’t test this theory by dropping an anvil on my head!
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.