Exercise Gives Structure to Hospital Stay

Back when I was running a lot, I often vowed to work on my neglected upper body strength.

That meant recommitting myself to going to exercise classes, doing planks, or lifting weights. It was not my first choice. I didn’t get the endorphins I got from running. But I knew it was important for overall health and for practical matters such as lifting my own suitcase into an overhead compartment.

"Weight lifting" in the hospital

When I was just walking around the nurses’ station while hospitalized during chemotherapy, I couldn’t do any of those things. So I asked the nurses if I could carry bags of saline solution. I don’t remember how much they weighed. They were enough to create the feeling that my arms were doing something other than dangling at my sides.

Of course, I wouldn’t have wanted anything too heavy. I was, after all, a patient with a fragile immune system, and nobody wanted me to get hurt.

Structure to the day through inpatient exercise

My routine gave structure to my day when I was hospitalized for weeks at a time. I usually went out onto the unit in the late morning after the doctor and the rest of the team checked me out. If I felt well enough, I also walked around in the afternoon. I didn’t always take the saline bags.

One day when I first started doing it, I lifted a bag to show my doctor. He had just walked onto the unit. He said it was fine with him, with one modification. I shouldn’t lift a bag with the arm that had the PICC line in it. The nurses were so on top of everything, I was surprised they hadn’t thought of that.

A pushy patient

As for me, I was the kid who really did ride a bike without holding onto the handlebars while I shouted, “Look ma, no hands.” I pushed things. I wouldn’t have switched to using one arm unless someone had told me to do it. It made sense, though.

PICC stands for peripherally inserted central catheter. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it is “a thin, soft, flexible tube — an intravenous (IV) line. Treatments, such as IV medications, can be given though a PICC. Blood for laboratory tests can also be withdrawn from a PICC.”1

PICC line problems

Unfortunately, the nurse had trouble finding the vein. The feeling of a needle under your skin, poking around the veins, missing the target, is a bad feeling that is hard to describe. I was relieved when she finally found the vein. (I think this kind of problem is unusual, so, if you’re reading this before getting a PICC line, don’t get alarmed.)

With all the work getting the line in, it made sense that I shouldn’t strain that arm during my so-called weight lifting routine.

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