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I.V. Starts . . .

--improving your odds!
by Tom Trimble, RN CEN
A Calm Start: Ensure the patient is comfortable and sufficiently warm to prevent vasoconstriction, allay his apprehension, have him understand the necessity of the procedure and how best he may help.


Enter Confidently:  Do not say "I'm here to try and start your IV." Boldly state "I'm here to start your IV." The patient will be encouraged by your confidence, and you might believe it better yourself! "Are you good at it?" "I'll do the best that anyone reasonably can!" (You have just promised an earnest effort and set a limit to false hopes.)


Gravity & Position: Hang the patient's arm down as low as possible, to employ gravity to assist in the venous filling. Raise the gurney sufficiently high that you can work in good light without hurting your back. If the intended site is distal, kneel or seat yourself so that you can work closely and steadily. For lower-extremity IV's, one may need to dangle the limb over the side of the bed to encourage dependent filling of vessels. If the patient is hypovolemic or in shock, one may need to tilt the bed head-down in Trendelenburg's Position to permit access, or to fill neck-veins for access and minimize air embolism. If the patient is on the floor or the bed cannot be tilted, or the need is extreme, a helper may raise and hold the patient's legs as high as possible to achieve the same effect.


Stabilize Your Position & Approach:  Sit whenever possible. Hold and stabilize the body part with your non-dominant arm. Try to set up a "Three-Point Touchdown Landing":

1) Rest the heel of your dominant hand on the body part.
2) Lower your flexed thumb and index finger grasping the cannula controls to just touch.
3) Lower the flat-underside of the point gently, then firmly, against the skin; "I'm just going to touch you right there so that you know where it is . . . (allow a few moments as you are doing this to fatigue the nociceptors in the skin) . . . then, One, Two, Three-e-e" (gently and quickly pop through the skin).

You will have the most stable and delicate approach, full control of the extremity, and will have set up in the patient mental and physical conditions that make it least likely for him to "jump."


Universal Precautions:  If the IV cannot be started with gloves on, ---it cannot and should not be started. The operator must protect himself with adequate body-substance isolation at all times. Glasses, goggles, or splash shields, should also be worn. While some marginally feasible vessels may need, by this rule, to be foregone, it is essential for operator safety to observe these precautions at all times. With increased practice, there need be no detriment to one's "success-rate." Palpation, and IV access, are learned skills, and will grow to meet any occasion. ALL patients must be considered infective at all times. It is NOT ACCEPTABLE to compromise precautions for any reason [this includes tearing off a finger tip of one's glove to permit palpation].


Failed? Give A Reasonable Explanation:  Explain in frank and friendly manner, why it didn't work, as best as you can tell. Most patients with "bad veins" know they do, and have been through it before. Even a plausible explanation that you're not sure of may still be sufficient. It can be useful to say, "These things sometimes happen. It's not your fault. It's not my fault. It can just be the way it is this time.


Shaving?:   Never shave the patient to start an IV. It is not necessary and may cause nicks. I haven't shaved a patient for over two decades. If the skin and hair is vigorously scrubbed widely around the intended venipuncture site and is clean and dry, the adhesive will stick well.


Removing Tape: Removing adhesive and dressings from the site is easy, and need not take any hair with it, if you will rub the tape with alcohol to soften the adhesive. Pick up an edge dabbing at it at the edge with the alcohol while peeling back slowly at an acute angle in the direction in which the hair lies down. Almost every hair will be spared, and the slightly greater time to do this allows you time to teach and talk with your patient who will be grateful for the care that is taken.


Removing the Cannula: When removing an IV catheter, loosen the dressing. When it is free, place the adhesive bandage over the site while the needle is still present. Withdraw the catheter while simultaneously pressing down with gauze to control bleeding. This is swift, bloodless, and discrete. If the patient has an especially excitable and apprehensive imagination, distract his gaze and attention momentarily, perhaps, even by exclaiming some feigned startle towards something which will require his gaze to be averted thus permitting you to quickly and smoothly withdraw the cannula unbeknownst to the patient. Steady pressure for 2-3 minutes by you or the patient will stop any bleeding usually, but longer may be needed if anticoagulated, coagulopathic, larger gauge IVs or marked hypertension. Acutely flexing the arm over the site may increase the size of the wound in the vessel wall which may increase the leak and should not be done.


The Best Tourniquet: Use an air-tight blood pressure cuff as your tourniquet. Invert it so that the tubings now run away from the lower part of the limb. You will have a wider, softer, more comfortable tourniquet that compresses more evenly and effectively, and can exactly regulate the pressure needed to achieve the effect.


Make the blood go where you want it to go: Always disinfect the insertion site in the direction of the venous flow so as to improve the filling of the vein by pushing the blood past the one-way valves. Clean vigorously and widely in case a better vein presents itself nearby and to have the tape and dressing adhere tightly to clean dry skin.


Nitroglycerin venodilation: To dilate a small vein, apply nitroglycerin ointment to the site for one to two minutes as you make last preparations. Remove the ointment as you make your final disinfection of the site with alcohol. Used briefly, good vasodilatation occurs without significant systemic effect if fully removed, and without the hassle of using hot moist towels.


Replace volume to improve veins: If the patient is volume-depleted, even a tiny IV can help replete and fill the veins. If not NPO, the patient may drink or fluids may be instilled by nasogastric tube, to improve vein-filling. If a small distal IV or butterfly can be inserted (though not adequate in itself), filling of the veins in the extremity can occur and retaining the tourniquet will help increase local engorgement.


Can't see a vein?: Trust your fingers even more than your eyes when trying to find a suitable vein.


What is this I feel?: A tendon may seem like the vein for which you are hoping, but palpating it through a range of motion may prove that it is not.


"Hardened" Veins?: If the vessel is hard, or scarred, try for another. Occasionally, one can, however, get through a scar to a usable portion of vein. There is a risk of fraying or kinking the cannula, however.


Patient Reports: Question, and believe, the patient about his previous IV history as to what is successful. But trust your own instincts and do not be unduly daunted by the reports. He may never have had someone as good and careful as yourself, or so willing to pursue any reasonable alternative.


Awkward Angle?:  Sometimes, when attempting a very superficial venule at an awkward angle, gently bending the needle into a slight arc without collapsing the lumen will allow easier cannulation. Using a syringe as a "handle" may permit easier viewing or working angle, or a chance to stabilize the entire unit by resting the heel of your needle hand on the limb or bed so that the other hand may more freely advance the catheter.


Difficult Advance?:  Mild obstructions, tortuosity of the vessel, vessel fragility, and frictional resistance can often be overcome by "twirling" the catheter hub, imparting a rotatory motion, as it is advanced to help glide over some points of hang-up. This will require a free and gentle hand or a trusted assistant.  Some "safety" cannulae with sheathing devices are more awkward with which to do this than older styles.


Less Often Used Vessels:  Consider uncommonly used vessels, even radical locations. Digits, medial wrists, basilic veins on the ulnar aspect of the forearms, cutaneous veins of the thigh, shoulder, chest , mammaries, or scalp veins in adults. Be sure that your proposed unusual location is approved by local policies and is truly needed due to exigent circumstances. Consider, also, using a "second-best possibility", of which you are confident, to save the better vein for another day or for someone who may need to find a suitable vein for this patient more than you do presently, or as a fall-back plan. c.f.: Peripheral Catheters Placed in Atypical Locations by Lynn Hadaway, M.Ed. RNC CRNI


Bottom's Up:  Learn to work "upside-down" to take advantage of basilic veins under the forearm. It is frequently easiest to acutely flex the forearm at the elbow (enhancing vein filling and minimizing "rolling" also), while facing the patient's feet to work on the now-exposed underside of the arm. An adequate working angle can be gotten at times by full extension and hyper-pronation (inwardly rolling the arm until the palm is now up again). One may need to sit lower than the arm to do this. Arthritic joints, contractures, spasticity or paralysis, may preclude this.


The Stroke Side?:  Paralyzed limbs will usually be stable for an IV, but neither very forgiving of infiltration, nor, in permanent paralysis, having a sufficiency of usable veins.


Right or Left?:  When feasible, it is a kindness and convenience to the patient to start the IV in the non-dominant side, but when veins are few there will be more and larger ones on the side used most due to the greater exercise encouraging better and more collateral circulation. If the forearm is used, an IV need not be bothersome to patient movement as the site will be more stable whereas those in the hand or antecubital fossa will impede flow as position is changed and endure more intimal wear and tear to the vein with movement or require onerous splinting.


Out of the Way?:  If, however, surgery, cardiac catheterization, or other major procedure is anticipated, the contra-lateral side is to be preferred for the greater convenience of the surgeon or operator and of the anesthetist/airway management person. Don't forget to add extension tubing, and possibly stopcocks.


A Moving Target:  It is usually best if the patient is persuaded to completely relax the limb for the venipuncture. Some persons will tend to stiffen out of apprehension or in the mistaken belief that this will help you . Worse still, is when the patient keeps trying to raise the arm in the same error so that one is confronted with a moving floating target.  I prefer that the patient recline on the bed rather than be bobbing in a "sitting" position. Drug addicts may suggest using greater-than-systolic pressure of the tourniquet coupled with vigorous exercise of the arm or even "push-ups" to force engorgement of their usually vasculopathic circulation. This method is detrimental to any sought-for laboratory specimens, and is mostly unnecessary.


Moving With the Moving Target:  When dealing with limb motion, or motion from the mobile environment (ambulance, air or watercraft, etc.), lock the arm in extension and block flexion at the elbow. It may be necessary to tuck the distal part of the limb under one's own humerus or axilla to control motion. Maintain braced contact positions of one's hands on the patient's limbs, be aware of and "get in the rhythm of the motion" of the vehicle or patient, and perform venipuncture.


Sharps Safety & Volatile Situations:  Use safe "needle-less" equipment whenever possible, especially with agitated or convulsing patients.   Retractable sheathing cannulae sets, such as Critikon™ (Protectiv-Plus)™, should be used in such instances if at all possible.  The patient may need to be restrained, if need be, by overwhelming manpower or even "chemical restraint", to permit your safety from him while any sharp is exposed.

Avoid sticking an exposed sharp into the mattress. This is an unsafe and unsanitary practice. The needle will be accidentally knocked, covered, or overlooked, thus remaining dangerous to all who are near, and to the patient. Puncturing the mattress cover converts the mattress pad into a "culture medium" which can no longer be disinfected, and is the beginning of rips and tears.


Continuous Drip or IV Lock:  Whenever possible for other than brief infusion therapy, set up the IV as a Saline Lock, then prepare the infusion set, thus for nursing and patient convenience one can readily change from continuous to intermittent infusion and preserve patient mobility.   Be cautious, however,  at discharge that the patient has not already dressed and covered his overlooked IV lock in haste to leave.  Verify discontinuation of any intravenous device before discharge.


A Matter of Gravity -Go With The Flow ! : It is common to use a saline lock primarily, especially if the patient should be fluid-restricted, as in renal failure or heart failure. However, if the patient is unstable, being resuscitated, or is to undergo rapid sequence intubation, always connect running infusion fluid. You must not waste time doing repeated flushes. Drugs that drop blood pressure or cause a "rush" can be given slowly more easily via a running line. The visible continuous drip monitors the quality of the flow so that the patient does not receive the medication if the tubing is kinked or pinched only to rush in rapidly when flow resumes and so that incompatible meds do not mix in the tubing instead of flowing into the patient.


Watch The Drip As You Secure The Line: Frequently in rushed situations, a cannula can be taped with a little too much pull on the (elastic) skin, so that it is drawn proximally and against a lumen wall, valve, or flexion point which may slow or stop flow. This is especially true if the lock is flushed then taped. Using running fluid will allow you to observe for best flow as you adjust final position and tape. The time and aggravation saved during critical work will repay this effort.

If the tape job has pulled the cannula into a position where it does not flow well, and there is no time to re-do the tape job, a temporary fix is to place tape over the cannula hub and dressing and use traction to draw it distally and tape against the skin.


It's All Downhill From Here: If the patient needs rapid volume replacement by gravity, remember to raise the pole as high as possible; if still more flow is needed, remember to lower the bed further. (The higher the water tank on the hill, the greater pressure and flow at the faucet in the valley.) This simple step will buy time to set up a rapid infuser or pressure bag (Remember to evacuate air from the bag if using positive pressure, and check the squeeze-ball pump on transfusion tubing, to make sure you do not transmit a large venous air embolism to the patient. An available tall helper may squeeze the bag, also. Use an extension tubing to ensure adequate length, easy change-over, and safer transport.


Flexible Blood Sampling:  A "dry" lock set can be connected immediately to the catheter hub as the needle is withdrawn. This prevents leakage and mess, allows a few moments to secure the IV, and to draw laboratory specimens through it before flushing. The flexible connection prevents wiggling and tugging of the catheter or needle while changing lab tubes, etc. Labs in any quantity can be drawn from even the smallest cannula in this manner without hemolysis if there is sufficient blood in the vessel.


Finger Tourniquet or Less:  If the patient is very hypertensive, and the vessels appear to be fragile or tense, one can decrease the chance of "blowing" the vein or causing ecchymosis by using only finger tamponade to tourniquet the vein momentarily for the puncture, or even no tourniquet at all but merely fixing the vein from rolling with distal and proximal traction.


"Tourniquet Sign":  If a "positive tourniquet sign" of fresh petechiae under or distal to the tourniquet, be sure to check Platelets, Coagulation studies, and Complete Blood Count, in addition to other studies planned. While dyscrasias may be found this way, remember also that tourniquet time may have been too prolonged (which can also cause hemolysis in the specimen) or too forceful.


Think Small:  Be willing to use even the smallest cannulae. Conventional thinking regarding desired size of cannula, unless immediate massive resuscitation is needed, may often be discarded as delivery can be ensured through infusion pumps, pressure bags, syringe and stopcock, etc. One liter/hour via pump equals 24 liters/day ---more than most patients will require.


What Size Cannula?:  Choose the cannula size with which you are most confident of inserting. If labs are essential, it may be necessary to downsize your choice by one size to provide enough caliber of lumen that blood can easily flow around the cannula to allow it to be drawn. Too tight a fit can make it impossible to draw labs at that site.


Is This A Hose?: Rapid flows are more easily achieved with cannulae with larger diameter and shorter length. Flow increases by the square of the diameter. Flow decreases with longer cannulae due to additional resistance.


How Many Lines?: Stable patients will probably need only one peripheral access, if well-chosen and secure. Additional lines (minimum=2) are necessary for patients with major trauma, severe hemorrhage, hemodynamically unstable medical patients, when rapid sequence intubation or resuscitation is likely, or multiple incompatible drug infusions must occur. Peripheral access may be needed when a vascular access device (e.g., Porta-Cath®, Broviac®, or Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) is deemed infected or otherwise compromised.


Plan Ahead For Diagnostic Studies: An increasingly important consideration in planning cannula size and placement is the likely diagnostic imaging strategy that the patient will need. If computed tomography (CT scan) with intravenous contrast will be needed, e.g., spiral thoracic  CT to rule out pulmonary embolism, etc., then it is usually necessary to have a 20 gauge or 18 gauge or larger short cannula peripheral IV in place using an upper extremity. This is so because the scan involves "power injection" of 75 milliliters of contrast at a rate of 10-20 milliliters/second with pressures up to 300 p.s.i. The scan travel is timed and calibrated to this injection rate as it seeks the pathology. This may be in contradistinction to the perhaps lesser cannula requirements of the patient's clinical condition.

Central lines, peripherally inserted central lines (PICC), and other vascular access devices (VAD), are usually excluded to avoid rupture of the catheter. When such lines must be used, "hand" injection is required and imposes some technical difficulty; planning for use of such lines must be done at the physician level.

Whenever there is conflict between the feasibility of available access and the technical requirements of proposed imaging studies, closely involve the responsible physicians with the radiologists in planning and providing the needed access.


Think Small - Plan Ahead:  "Vasculopathic" patients such as diabetics, patients with chronic steroid use or chemotherapy history, long history of IV drug abuse, fragile vessels, extensive medical-surgical history with "used-up" veins, should have smaller cannulae used whenever feasible to preserve the available vessel. If long term or frequent use is foreseen, plan prospectively and refer for PICC insertion, tunneled vascular access device, or other long-term indwelling access. This should be done before the patient's veins are "used-up" so that useable vessels remain for emergency or for when vascular access devices are infected or fail. IV drug abusers should be encouraged "to save a vein for the hospital !" It's worth trying; some will actually see the wisdom of this.


Rapier or Broadsword?:  Smaller needles are more flexible and whippy and may be deflected by a tough vein wall.  Larger needles are stiffer and may have the requisite ability to fix and penetrate the vessel.


Bigger=Thicker:  Thinner needles and cannulae penetrate more easily. Larger sizes have a greater cross-section and exponentially increase the friction resistance of penetrating skin and vessel. If distal traction is insufficient, or the resistance under-appreciated and the insertion is hesitant, one may have gained the lumen and flash-back with the bevel of the needle and lose the IV by pushing the vein right off the needle with the additional bluntness and friction of the catheter.


Local Anesthesia for Large Lines:  When preparing to insert a large needle, one can minimize the force and pain by first making a "pilot hole" with a small needle. Local anesthetic may be deposited along the intended track. Insert to nearly the intended depth quickly, and raise a wheal of anesthetic such as buffered lidocaine or bupivacaine, diphenhydramine, or even of normal saline, on the withdrawal of the needle. "Backing-out" the anesthetic in this way is the least uncomfortable.


Transcutaneous Local Anesthesia:  EMLA® Cream [lidocaine and prilocaine] can be used in advance (45 minutes) as a local anesthetic through intact skin at the intended puncture site. Propose a policy that EMLA® can be placed by the Triage Nurse or first nurse to begin care in cases such as children, oncology patients, etc., whose need for it can be foreseen. A warm moist washcloth or "heel warmer" pack can enhance the onset and effectiveness (which are also useful, with care to avoid scalding, when nitroglycerin is not appropriate).


Confusing the Nerves:  Firmly rubbing the skin during the preparatory disinfection in itself diminishes the amount of perception of the needle. Simply pressing against the skin firmly with the underside of the needle for several seconds before venipuncture fatigues the nerves before the skin puncture occurs.


When does it hurt?:  Generally, there are only two significant moments of discomfort from the needle. The actual skin puncture, which should therefore be with a quick and decisive thrust to shorten the moment of discomfort, and to a lesser extent, the "pop" into the vein itself. One may often explore or manipulate freely in the subcutaneous area without any offensive discomfort. Most discomfort occurs with unintended deflection or probing into muscle, tendon, or other non-vascular structures. This may be the clue that your needle has been deflected by hard or "rolling" veins and has missed the target. If uncertain of safely entering the vessel on a single thrust, one may then "two-step" the insertion by separate punctures of skin and vein to allow greater care to be taken.


Loose Skin?:  Prior to insertion, loose skin and connective tissue may need to be fixed with stretching by the fingers both distally and proximally to straighten and hold the vein in place. Very loose and thin skin may need to be drawn downwards from underneath by the hand in C-clamp fashion to fix its position.


Sticking it in - Sticking it down to stay:  Extra steps to prevent loss of the difficult IV, might include using Compound Tincture of Benzoin, or even Flexible Collodion, as a skin-protectant and "tackifier" so that tape sticks better and longer. Steri-Strips® will enhance the strength of the taping, are hypoallergenic, and in convenient lengths. Stoma-Hesive® (or Skin Blanket®) can protect very fragile papyraceous skin, and stabilize very loose skin from movement.

If the patient's skin is so diaphoretic, oily, friable, or sensitive to adhesives  that nothing will stick, wrap the IV in place with a loose weave or knit bandage, or consider having it sutured in.


Securing it against loss:  Protection of the IV by wrapping or splinting should be avoided whenever possible when planning your access. However, to do so may be essential, with that "last available" vein, awkward locations (e.g. in digits, or protrusion of the hub beyond the knuckles), children below the age of understanding and cooperation, delirium, etc. When it must be done, custom-design your protection for the problem at hand to meet any foreseeable problem. Plastic domes may shield the site from tampering and still allow some visualization of the site.


"High Security":  Very agitated, delirious, and combative patients can have their IVs protected widely, above and below the insertion site, with 4" wide Elastoplast® ( tape to resist removal by the patient. If need be, encase the circumference of the extremity with two hemi-circumferential strips of the Elastoplast ® (under loose tension as the elasticity will allow for movement or swelling and prevent a tourniquet effect. If a T-set is used, access to the injection port can be provided with a small slit in the tape.


"Now, That's A Splint!":  Use splints rarely. Plan your IV to avoid their necessity. If splints are necessary to protect the IV or to prevent "positional" alterations in flow, and the patient too easily bends the common foam and cardboard splint (even if doubled), maximal protection can be provided by using plaster-of-paris splint roll materials, or OrthoGlass® fiberglass splinting with warm water [to speed setting time] so that the extremity is rigidly fixed. Bias-cut Stockinet is used for the bandage in Figure of Eight fashion [this will secure well, yet allow for any swelling]. Malleable Aluminum/Foam splints may be used as excellent "outrigger" struts to protect against "bumping" the end of the line, or to preserve the curve of the digit necessary to allow flow.


Weighty Matters:  Weak, but restless, patients such as infants and the feeble elderly, may have the extremity with the IV immobilized by weighting it down on the bed by a 20 lb. sandbag on the tip of the splint, or two 10 lb. sandbags slung together straddling the limb.


Restrain Before Starting?:  Infants and small children may need to have their limb splinted or restrained before starting the IV. {Remember to include the tourniquet before securing the splint so as not to have to fish it through to begin the venipuncture, and to be able to remove it afterwards.} It is best to have all materials, alternatives and spares, within reach. Often, an assistant will be needed to secure the IV, advance the catheter, flush and test, etc.


"Do You Have To Restrain Him Like That?":  For some children or patients in whom their agitation and potential combativeness cannot yet be safely relieved, it can be wise to restrain or use a "Papoose" or "Mummy" wrap, but this can be unsettling to the feelings of the family. Explain as you set up and proceed that you want very much to make the best possible chance for success on the first effort. "Imagine that you are a Diamond Cutter or someone going to do some very precise work that could only be done once, you would set up an assembly jig so that it couldn't move at the wrong moment, wouldn't you?"


Light Work:  In infants and small children, veins can be located by transilluminating the skin or limb with a bright light such as a halogen diagnostic light,  otoscope, or Intubation Lighted Stylet. Be wary of burning skin and limit duration of contact.


Hand Tools:  Sometimes, the best tourniquet will be a human one, squeezing the limb above, while assisting in holding the patient.


Did It Leak?:  The most sensitive indicator of extravasated fluid or "infiltration" is to transilluminate the skin with a small penlight and look for the enhanced halo of light diffusion in the fluid filled area. Checking flow of infusion does not tell you where the fluid is going. Checking a "backflow" or aspirate only tells you that the catheter tip communicates with blood, not whether the fluid infused leaks at some point.


How does it infuse?:  If a small leak occurs at the point and moment of insertion, the vein may still be usable if the catheter tip can be fully advanced proximal to the leakage. Observe carefully a test infusion of non-irritating fluid for any extravasation before other use.


Natural Motion:  Taping down the tubing should always be done with regard to the natural movements of the body thus running all tubing laterally on the limb in the direction of motion. You can prevent many future tubing tangles by "going with the flow." Function follows form.


Connectors=Disconnectors:  Do not place tape directly over any connector. It may be necessary to "break into" the line to change tubing urgently, rescue from any clot, bubble, or drug given in error, or to tighten a leaking connector. One or two stress tapings to prevent a direct yank upon an IV site if the tubing is snagged should be sufficient. Do not tape down excessive loops or coils which shorten the working length of tubing. Except for stress taping IVs of the hand or foot and ankle, one should not tape on the proximal side of a flexing joint. The IV will have positional variability of flow and may clot off entirely. Do not wrap the tubing around a digit when taping [it makes it easier for the patient to clench and pull out or alter the flow. Merely double-back the tubing with a short loop and secure well.  It is appropriate to tape central line connectors to prevent exsanguination or air embolism if the line separates.


Spare Access/Other Purposes:  Plan ahead. If the patient with hemorrhage is hemodynamically stable so that the customary second IV access is not actively needed for transfusion or resuscitation, "lock" the access so that it might be used to obtain serial lab studies without repeated venipuncture of the patient.


Drawing from the Line:  An IV or lock may be used to obtain lab specimens. Stop the flow for one or two minutes if an infusion has been running. If there is poor flow in the vein, or to clear a drug or solution that might alter the lab results, elevate and "drain" the limb. Apply a tourniquet. Draw a "waste" with a spare Vacutainer to discard, or with a small syringe equal to twice the dead space volume; then obtain the specimens. Remove the tourniquet. Resume infusion or flush briskly to ensure patency. Advise the patient that there are many technical and medical reasons why this may not be feasible or permissible every time or in every setting.


Hypertonic & Irritating Drugs:  When planning the infusion or administration of any irritating drugs e.g. 50% Dextrose, Phenytoin, or Potassium, try to use a smaller catheter in a large-bore vein so that flow-around dilution will occur and less intimal damage or pain.


Numbing Potassium:  "Phlebodynia" or "vein-pain" from Potassium can be diminished by adding 10 mg. (1ml. of 1% Lidocaine to each 10mEq aliquot of Potassium, and prompt relief by an IV push (very slow and gentle; you're also moving the potassium! Let it "dwell" for 30 seconds before resuming flow.) of 10 mg Lidocaine. Total dose should not exceed 50 mgs/hour. Be sure that this complies with Policy & Procedures, has an order covering it, and the drug administration is documented. This may not be permitted in institutions that have eliminated concentrated electrolyte solutions from care areas (and substituted pre-mixed piggy-bags without injection ports) in concert with JCHAO's Patient Safety Initiatives.


Phenytoin Infusions:  If the patient can tolerate the fluid, irritation by Phenytoin can be prevented by putting the usual one gram loading dose in a 250 ml bag of NS (well-mixed); higher doses can go in a 500 ml bag or maintain a ratio of 50mg/50ml. This also minimizes the hypotensating effects of the infusion. Patients who have been convulsing sufficiently to require intravenous loading also are somewhat volume contracted which will be eased by the additional fluid. This irritating effect from the propylene glycol carrier of the phenytoin is entirely obviated by the newer and more expensive "pro-drug" Fosphenytoin which is in a non-irritating aqueous solution.  Additionally, although the same side effects can occur as with Phenytoin, they appear less frequently and more rapid "loading" can be accomplished, up to 150 milligrams Phenytoin Equivalent per minute with care.


Hypertonic "pushes":  Other hypertonic drugs, such as 50% Dextrose or Sodium Bicarbonate given as a "push" should be administered slowly under constant observation to spot extravasation and with frequent aspirations to check patency.


Slow Infusion via Lock:  When administering drugs slowly through a lock but with minimal volumes of fluid, use the "two-syringe" method. Insert the drug syringe to the port at the cannula hub. Insert the flush syringe at the next distal port of the T-set or extension tubing. Give the drug slowly and incrementally while carrying it into the circulation with fluid from the flush syringe. This allows great control of the infusion rate.


"Locking" the Lock:  Clamp off the extension during positive pressure on the fluid to best maintain patency of the lumen; this helps prevent a mini-aspirate of blood at the tip (when pressure is slack) which might become a clot.


"Slamming" Adenosine:  Adenosine must be given as quickly as possible {as it may otherwise degrade before reaching central circulation due to its short half-life}. Use the two-syringe T-set method with a large volume flush syringe (30 ml) or a running IV line from which one can "draw-down" the syringe of large volume flush (and clamp above so the fluid doesn't back-flow up into the bag) for the rapid "slam" of the drug. Push the drug and hold the syringe plunger firmly as the force and volume of the upper flush downwards will push the Adenosine plunger backwards possibly "dead-spacing" the drug or blowing out the plunger.


Know When To Quit:  Not being a "quitter" is admirable when persistence is necessary to achieve a reasonable goal. However, it is the right thing to do:
  • If the requested access is not possible.
  • If you are becoming frustrated and aggravated or are feeling "unlucky" in your efforts.
  • If the patient-nurse relationship is being damaged.
  • If the patient is undergoing an unreasonable number of attempts, or doesn't tolerate further effort.
  • If vascular access has quite reasonably become a matter for the physician requiring special skills or permitted locations.
  • If the purpose or intent of the line does not justify the efforts involved. Another plan should be tried.


Know Who Your "Pinch-Hitter" Is:  Be aware of whose skills match or exceed your own, or who might be "lucky" on a day that you are not. "Frequent Flyer" patients may know who among your staff has a successful track record with them, or with whom they have a "rapport" even if things don't go well. Specialized staff such as Intensive Care Nursery, Anesthesia, Interventional Radiology, Vascular Surgeons, may be needed for some patients. It is wisdom to call those who may have the best chance before all "veins are used up." Ultrasound Guided Peripheral IV Insertion is a useful alternative when permitted; ensure that an appropriate length, lumen size, and pressure rated catheter is inserted for the planned purpose.


Advocate For Proactive Planning:  When patients are encountered early in the course of serious progressive illness, and it is obvious that ongoing vascular access will be a recurring problem, speak appropriately to the medical team and the patient regarding the early insertion of a Vascular Access Device (e.g., Porta-Cath®, Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter or Midline Catheter, Broviac®, Groshong®, etc., before all peripheral veins are lost (that might need to be used when the line is infected or non-functional, peripheral blood cultures are needed, or other emergency occurs).


For Novices to Starting IVs: We recommend the article:
On the road to successful I.V. starts

Lynn C.  Hadaway, RN,C, CRNI, MEd 
Doris A. Millam, RN, MS 

A supplement to Nursing2005
May 2005
Volume 35 Supplement 1
On the road to successful I.V. starts
Pages 1 - 14


For Advice on Pediatric IVs: We recommend the article:

Tips and tricks for pediatric I.V. insertion
Nursing, Dec 2000, by Anne Marie Frey
as shown by findarticles.com


For Novices to Starting IVs: We recommend the video:

Peripheral IV Lines
Project Viper - Video Instruction of Procedures in the Emergency Room


Additional Information on Managing Peripheral IVs for Novices:
We recommend the article (and its excellent website):

Notes on ICU Nursing

Peripheral IV's for Beginners

Mark Hammerschmidt, RN

Chief Review Editor:
Jayne Mulholland, RN CEN CCRN


For Infusion Therapy and Vascular Access Nursing Expert
We recommend the website & email list:

Attention is called to ENW's Disclaimer.
Before instituting any practice change, check all applicable standards and policies.
It is particularly cautioned that Emergency practice described is for needful circumstances and may vary from conventional practice.
Verify local requirements first.

"I.V. Starts --- Improving Your Odds!"

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