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Prepare Your Veins for Infusions

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Updated April 09, 2014

One thing that most of us with MS have to deal is getting stuck with needles. While giving yourself injections can be very challenging, at least you are in control of the situation and can try different things to make the injections go more smoothly.

Infusions, however, pose a different problem. You are pretty much at the mercy of the person inserting the needle, and your infusion experience largely depends on their expertise, length of time doing this job, exhaustion level at the time and whether they had a fight with their mother on the phone right before seeing you. However, the "quality" of your veins, thickness and color of your skin and other physical things about you also play a role in how easy the needle will go in.

I have compiled a short list of tips from readers on things that they do to ensure that their veins are at their best before an infusion, whether it is for Solu-Medrol, Tysabri, Novantrone, gadolinium or anything else going in intravenously. These tricks also work to help blood draws go more smoothly.

    Superhydration: Drink water. Then drink more water. When you are done with that, drink a lot more water. No kidding -- having as much liquid on board will really help your veins be nice, big and easy to find. The only problem will be that whatever goes in must come out. Make sure that your IV is on a rolling pole or can be detached and carried with you to the bathroom. Also, mention that you will probably have to make a visit or two to the facilities, so that the infusion nurse or MRI tech can be prepared to help you.

    Hot Towel Trick: Wrap your hand and lower arm in a hot, steamy towel for about 20 minutes before you have the needle inserted. This will also help the veins "pop" and be very visible and accessible. Veins will constrict until they are almost invisible in a cold environment. As most of us can attest to, many clinics and hospitals are kept at almost-freezing temperatures and the hot towel will bring your vein out of hiding.

    Do "The Chicken": Flap your arms up and down to increase blood flow to your extremities. You can also dangle your arm over the side of the bed for 15 minutes if you are lying down before your infusion.

    Speak Up: This is my own personal tip. While the person inserting the needle might be the expert at their job, you are the expert when it comes to your own body. Tell the nurse what kind of problems people have had inserting a needle in the past, where your "best" veins seem to be and if you may get lightheaded and prefer to lie down. Ask if the "best stick" (slang for the person who is the very best at finding difficult veins) is around. I say all of these things with a smile on my face and a friendly (but firm) voice. I have asked for a different nurse if I detect animosity or that someone is nervous. Again, keep it light and friendly, but stand your ground. While the nurse may be having a bad day, I can't say that any of the days that I have had infusions have been wonderful for me, either. Take some stress out of the situation by doing what you can to make it go as well as possible.

I have to say that most of my IV lines have been placed very smoothly and competently, without too much pain and suffering, by very calm, skilled people. If you find someone that does an outstanding job, write down their name and request them the next time. I have brought along pictures of my children to show my favorite nurses, and my husband has even bribed them with homemade truffles to keep me on their "preferred patient" list.

Last Words: If you are very nervous about getting an IV needle placed, you can ask for a tranquilizer or anti-anxiety drug (you will need to take this about 30 minutes before the line is inserted). If you have a low tolerance for pain, you can ask for a Lidocaine shot, which is given with a very tiny needle, and effectively numbs the area. You may need to ask about these things before you arrive to the infusion site, as they often need to be approved by physicians or ordered from the hospital or clinic pharmacy.

Very Last Words: You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed that you don't like getting infusions and want to take precautions to make sure the experience is the least stressful that it can be. You didn't ask to have MS -- none of us did -- and you don't have to assume that you have to submit to medical procedures without input. Many nurses will be happy to accommodate your requests and make your infusions go as smoothly as possible.

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