Table of Contents
Intravenous, in-the-vein (IV) lines are a fact of life for hospital patients. If you are admitted into the medical ward of just about any hospital in the United States, chances are you will have one or more IV portals inserted into your veins even if you are not receiving fluids or medications through them.
How Is an IV Inserted?
Most of the time an IV is placed in a vein (a blood vessel carrying blood back to the heart) in the arms, or less often in the legs or (for infants) scalp.
The IV assembly consists of a needle inside a catheter, which is like a little pipe, inserted about 1 inch (20-25 mm) into a vein. Part of the catheter remains outside the skin, and can be connected to a syringe, or an infusion line (connected to an "IV bag"), or capped with a haplock for future use.
Do I Really Have to Have an IV?
Hospital rules usually require patients to have IV lines from the moment they are admitted until the moment they leave just in case emergency medications are needed, even if intravenous infusion is not needed when the catheter is put in. If you are that rare patient who “codes” and needs epinephrine and atropine to restart your heart, or if you are unable to drink water and you need intravenous fluids to avoid your skin and veins collapsing, then you will appreciate the value of having an IV line anytime you are hospitalized. Many medications have to be delivered by IV, and sometimes the only way a hospital patient can get nutrients is by IV.
IV lines are usually absolutely necessary. But nobody likes getting them.
What Makes Getting an IV (Sometimes but Not Always) Unpleasant?
Inexperienced (and out-of-practice) nurses sometimes need more than one poke to get a line started. Veins can roll and "hide" at the exact moment the nurse inserts the needle. Veins may be crooked, and they may have valves that stop the needle before it can be properly inserted. If the catheter won't go far enough into a vein, it has to be taken out and reinserted elsewhere.
Sometimes inserting a needle into a vein can make a bloody mess, especially if you are on an anti-coagulant (blood thinning) medication, as you almost certainly would be in you are in the hospital for heart issues or after-care of almost any kind of surgery. And sometimes the skin is simply unusually dried out and tough. A needle that should slip through the skin easily does not, because the skin fights back.
Skilled nurses and paramedics often can deal with all of these issues, but you can make the experience easier, too. It is a good idea to know the following five ways to make an getting an IV line more comfortable before you go to the hospital, and to review them before taking a child to hospital treatment.