my fistula: good, bad, and the ugly, part 1

Let’s talk about the fistula. Honestly, can anyone say they really knew what a fistula was before they got one? I for one, had not a clue. Which for me, I still say, was a good thing or I might never have signed the papers agreeing  to the surgery.

I thought I knew what a thrill was, even if it’s been many years since I’ve had one, but nothing prepared me for that constant buzzing, or “thrill”, that I now feel in my arm.

This was probably the last time I had a “Thrill”, in 2007 in Mindo, Ecuador! But I’ll tell you more about that when we get to my bucket list.


Obviously, I would have preferred to have a fistula in my forearm, but that was not meant to be. The first surgery, on my forearm, didn’t take, so they went back a few days later and tried my upper arm. Voila!  I now had a new thrill! Literally.

So while the fistula healed I continued with in-center dialysis using the catheter, with all its aggravations and limitations. Two months later, I went back to the surgeon for the second operation, moving the fistula vein closer to the surface. I also got a new catheter, since they were offering a two for one special that day! As the fistula healed, the nurses started placing bets on who would stick me first! They were chomping at the bit. Evidently, as fistulas go, mine was a beauty.

The catheter, on the other hand, was infected, and as my fistula matured, the catheter went from bad to worse. I went to the surgeon on July 1 to get the official OK to use it, and he said “If you get three good pulls with the needles, tell them to take out the catheter!”

So I went back to the clinic the next day, with the good news. I arrived with my fistula dutifully coated with EMLA  (a numbing cream used by us buy prednisone) and my upper arm wrapped in saran wrap. One of the nurses did the first stick. Didn’t feel a thing!

Three treatments later, I went back to the surgeon and had the catheter removed. Thrilled does not describe that feeling. For the past two months I had been cleaning our pool daily,  and now I could finally get in! Take a shower!  The possibilities were endless!

I had graduated. I was using needles. and it didn’t really hurt (that much) – the anticipation was worse than the reality. I was one of the big kids now! After the first few sticks, the techs took over. I admit to some trepidation, but truthfully, several of them were better than the nurses!

There was one tech who never really stood out in the crowd, and, honestly, when I found out she was going to stick me that day I was worried. And then she was done! I didn’t even know she had stuck me, much less hooked me up! When I told her that was the best stick ever, she beamed from ear to ear, and shyly said “would you tell the nurse, please”. I sure did, and asked for her the next time, too!

But after only 6 treatments, one of the nurses approached and said “today you stick yourself”. I looked around to see who she was talking to…surely, not me! But there was no one else. She was very patient, showed me how to hold the needle, feel for the track of the fistula, and slide the arterial needle in. Perfect! Next came the venous.

The venous would prove to be my problem child. My first stick was flawless, but sadly, it was the last. My first problem was the location, at least an inch above the arterial. Much higher and we’d be in my armpit. Then there was the fact that, like most women my age,  there is an abundance of flesh on my upper arm. I had to push and shove it, this way and that, until I got sight of the fistula vein. It loved to play hide and seek in there! The newer the fistula, the less pronounced the vein. Finally, like many people my age, I wear bifocals, or maybe even trifocals, who can remember? Every time I looked down to focus on the needle for the venous line, everything was a blur. But somehow I managed to do it!

I cannot even begin to tell you how proud I was! I was on a roll. All was good with my world, my fistula and the needles.

Well, almost all. Read on for the next journey!iceland 099

This geyser in Strokkur, Iceland reminds me of my fistula!

2 thoughts on “my fistula: good, bad, and the ugly, part 1

  1. Nieltje I have been ready your blog and I just can’t get over how similar our experiences have been leading up to dialysis and fistula..Funny I had a fistula gram Thursday and found out my venous splits into 2 run off veins so I am waiting for the doctors to talk to see what they are going to do. ..The fog you talk about I was sick for so long that after a few dialysis I thought I felt funny but it was I forgot how feeling good was..My cluttered head had cleared and the fog lifted. .Hope you don’t mind me sharing with you..Take care

  2. Thanks Krista. I love that people share their experiences. I learn so much from other dialyzers. I’m in the process of updating my blog, but will have some more entries soon. Please come back!

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