The morning after my relative Helen had surgery, her IV pump started beeping.  I alerted the nurse.  She came within 5-10 minutes and said that the IV tubing was kinked. She straightened it out, reset the pump, and left.  Within a few minutes, it happened again.  I alerted the nurse again, and 5-10 minutes later, she repeated the same steps.

She said reassuringly, “It’s okay, it happens to a lot of patients, not just Helen. It happens a lot.  It will keep happening.  Just come get me and I’ll reset it, every time.  It’s not a problem; I’ll come every time.“

Although the nurse was very nice, her assurances didn’t address the fact that the continual beeping made it impossible for Helen to rest.  The pump was located near the head of her bed, and thus the beeping was loudest right near her ears.   

The pump beeped twice about every five seconds from the time the line kinked to the time the nurse reset it.  In a three-hour period, Helen was subjected to about 60-120 minutes of beeping, or roughly 1440-2880 beeps.  And those numbers don’t count the beeping from the IV pump of the patient in the other bed.

Further, Helen was receiving saline solution at only about half the rate her doctor had prescribed.  Being dehydrated puts all patients -- but particularly frail ones -- at greater risk for serious complications ranging from bedsores to delirium.  For patients getting drug therapy through their IV lines, receiving the drug at only half the prescribed rate could cause even bigger problems.

Some patients get even less of the fluid ordered than Helen did.  The pump alarms may not sound sound outside the room.  Patients who can’t call the nurse themselves, and who do not have advocates 24/7, might receive only a small portion of the ordered fluids or drug therapy, because the pumps are reset -- and fluid starts running again -- only when the nurse comes into the room for some other reason, realizes that the pump has stopped, and restarts it. 

In a similar situation, what can you do?

First, see if you can tell why the line is constantly kinking.  For example, if the patient is bending the arm with the IV in it to hold your hand, consider moving to the other side of the bed.

Second, ask the nurse if the patient, tubing, or IV pole be repositioned to reduce the odds that the tube will kink.

Third, ask if a small brace or cuff can help keep the tubing straight near the patient’s arm.

Fourth, don’t give up.  Enlist the nurse to help solve the problem so that the patient can both rest and get needed fluids.