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Handing back the pump

By Gillian

So yesterday we handed back the Walkmed pump that Chris has been umbilically attached to since January. And now that it’s gone, it’s a huge relief to both of us.

The pump was about half the size of a paperback book, and came in a black padded “bum bag” that Chris kept around his waist at all times 24/7, (except when he took a shower, when it went into the boat bag). In the bum bag was also a plastic pouch containing an 8 days’ supply of 5-FU, which was delivered via the pump and a thin flexible plastic tube that was plumbed into the PICC line on the inside of his left elbow.

The odd thing was that Cheltenham and Worcester hospitals used different pouches. The Cheltenham one was larger, about the same area as the pump, and had a tube that was just long enough to go up inside his shirt, and down his sleeve to his elbow. The one from Worcester had a pouch half the size, a much longer tube (so much so that the excess had to be coiled up inside the bum bag), and also had a filter the size of a 10p piece which was taped to his upper arm using micropore. Chris was talked though the care and maintenance of the pump gubbins at Cheltenham as part of his first chemo cycle, and they emphasised the necessity of keeping the pump and PICC dry. But they didn’t mention the filter, as their kit didn’t use one. So for the first week after Chris got the bag changed at Worcester, he didn’t bother keeping the filter waterproofed during his showers. That was a mistake – a small amount of 5-FU leaked out and burnt his skin. We learned from that, and subsequently kept the filter inside the waterproof sleeve.

The 5-FU dosage was based on Chris’s weight. The Cheltenham dose was 0.63ml/hr; the Worcester dose being twice as concentrated was 0.31ml/hr, and the nurses triple-checked the programmed dose each week.The pump whirred for around a second every 30 seconds, day and night. It wasn’t a particularly loud whirr, but at first I found it very irritating. After a few weeks though I got almost used to it, but I have to say that I don’t miss it at all!

The really annoying thing though was the alarm. If the line got a kink in it (usually by Chris bending his arm too much) then the Walkmed would start beeping intrusively.  Once the alarm went off he had to take the device out of the bum bag, identify what the alarm was complaining about, stop the pump, rectify the problem and restart it. Tedious. At least it was fairly easy to avoid “occlusion” alarms once we’d learnt what caused them – it just limited how he could sit and lie, because he needed to keep his arm pretty straight. The one I always dreaded was the insistent “Battery Low” alarm. One had no control over when that happened and there was no audible early warning.  Even though we kept a spare battery in the pouch at all times, it was quite a fiddly operation to change it. I was worried that it would go off when we were out at the theatre, for example, which would have been very embarrassing. Fortunately, we always happened to be at home when the battery needed changing.

Chris was getting really really sick (both literally and metaphorically) of being plumbed into the Walkmed day and night for so many months. It’s great that it’s now done its job and we’ve handed it back. Life is much more peaceful now.

{ 11 } Comments

  1. Tim Hope | 27 May 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Great news – although I marvel at the dosage rates and engineering, having something strapped to you 24 hours a day for months on end must be really tough. I truly hope that you’re receiving all the benefits from the Chemotherapy.

  2. icyjumbo | 27 May 2010 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    I too marvelled at the tiny dosages, but it seemed to work just fine. The consultant and I discussed whether there was any more benefit to be gained from more chemotherapy, and his opinion was that it was more toxic now than beneficial, so with quality of life considerations to take into account it was well worth stopping one cycle early. As for having the pump strapped to my body for 24 hours a day, that was dreadfully annoying, which is one reason — if not the main reason — I was so pleased to get rid of it.

  3. Hugh W | 28 May 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Good to hear that you have gotten rid of that encumbrance. Have a good holiday and we will get together again afterwards

  4. icyjumbo | 28 May 2010 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Hugh and Veronica, it was a huge relief to get rid of it.

    Hugh, I’m looking forward to that.

  5. Veronica | 28 May 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Good to hear that you have got rid of the pump and will be able to go on holiday freely.
    Being freed from the side effects of the chemotherapy must inevitably be a relief.

  6. Q&J | 29 May 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Hi both,
    Not sure when holiday starts but have an enjoyable time and will hope to see you afterwards. I have been following the blog, but, as an engineer, little imagination to say other than what has already been said!
    Cheers and enjoy!

  7. icyjumbo | 30 May 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Q, thank you for the good wishes. The holiday isn’t for a few days yet, but I’m already feeling substantially better, and hope to be on top form for the holiday itself.

  8. David | 29 May 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Chris, it was good to see you and Gillian in Waitrose (where else does one go for a social life?) this morning and to see that you are still able to have some good times. Sorry you’ve had such rotten luck. Hope you have a great holiday.

    Best wishes


  9. icyjumbo | 30 May 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    David, great to see you here. I’m sure the holiday will be fun, and we’re both looking forward immensely to it.

  10. sue hawkins | 6 June 2010 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    Great news!! Have a great holiday – or by this time you might well have had – I’ll be looking forward to more of these posts by both of you.

  11. icyjumbo | 6 June 2010 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Sue. I’m looking forward immensely to the holiday. There might even be photos…