I have been wearing a VAC dress machine for almost 2 weeks and I’ve learned how to sit right, how to carry it around, how to deal with problems and if it wasn’t in such an awkward position I think I’d be able to change it without issues. Here are 10 things that I’ve learned. 

Note: All of these points are related specifically to using a VAC dressing to heal a pereneal wound.

1. You Can Sit Down

I’m still a beginner when it comes to VAC dressings but from what I’ve learned from district nurses, the tube that was connected to used to be a hard plastic tube but the one that I’m using is called a ‘soft port’ and isn’t actually a tube. It’s more of a channel that allows pressure to be applied to it when sitting without it interfering with the vacuum. It’s not so soft that you don’t know it’s there but it does help. I’ve found sitting at an angle can help although sitting for prolonged periods can make things ache a little. I’ve also found that certain seats (eg. A car seat where your butt is more depressed into the seat) can be more uncomfortable.

2. They Can Be Itchy, Really Itchy

Having ‘cling film’ stuck on your butt can make it really itchy, and there’s nothing you can do about it! I have had some restless nights where I have some really bad itching close to the wound and further from it and despite not being able to do anything about it I still find myself fruitlessly scratching the film. 

By day 3, the itching has become pretty intense and you are looking forward to the dressing change. As soon as the dressing is off there’s a short window to scratch all those itches that have been annoying you for the last three days!

3. The Seal Is Important, But Challenging To Maintain

A vacuum is essential for the VAC dressing to work and without it, you may as well not be using the device. With a perineal wound, with it’s creases and crevices, makes it tough to maintain a seal and it’s easy to break it when you start shifting around in bed. 

With a gap of 3 days between dressing changes and with the machine shouting at you, you have to get creative with the tape and try patching up and gaps. After a few dressing changes I have managed to figure out the best way of keeping a tight seal. Unfortunately that means getting rather close to your bits which makes taking off the dressing more interesting!

4. You Quickly Learn How To Deal With The Alarms

I hadn’t even left the hospital grounds when the machine started alerting me to a full canister. It was empty and it transpired that the full canister alert can also mean that the vacuum is not being maintained. So when then I have received the same alarm on a number of occasions but I’m learning how to patch up the seal to maintain the vacuum. If the machine is being a bit picky, Turning it off an on can also fix it, unless the vacuum is really not being maintained. 

Time for some creative taping!

Another common problem is the blockage alert which is usually due to a kink in the tube. I’ve had at least one restless night due to the alarm going off due to how I was laying in bed. There never seems to be an actual noticeable blockage so I’m not sure what it was identifying. 

5. Nobody Has Commented On It

Life’s to short to worry about what people think and from day 1 I wasn’t concerned about carrying the machine around with me. It comes in a handheld chav bag so blends in well, except for the tube extending from it.

My ‘Chav Bag’

There is a little section at the back of the bag which can store a small amount of the tube or if in a hurry I’ll just sling the tube over my shoulder. There is the white soft port. That extends from the wound and you could probably tuck it into the waist of whatever you are wearing but rather than worrying about whether it’s still tucked in I just leave it out and not worry about who sees it.

6. You Can Take It To The Cinema

A VAC machine isn’t loud, but it’s not quiet either. It’s constantly chugging away like a little outboard motor but that doesn’t mean that you can’t take one to the cinema. A big screen and an action film is recommended as opposed to a cosy screen and A Quiet Place. 

7. You Can Still Be Mobile

Since having the machine fitted I’ve been taking it easy but I’ve still been mobile. I’ve able to get around without any discomfort and the machine doesn’t hinder me. I’ve also managed a couple of countryside walks although nothing to what I’m used to doing (just a couple of miles).

You can still be active.

A main concern is breaking the seal whilst out so by keeping everything gentle there’s less chance of tape becoming unstuck. I’m sure I could do more (not running though) but after coming this far in my journey I don’t want to have any more set backs by doing too much too soon. 

8. It’s A Bit Of A Pain Being Tethered To The Machine

During the times when you haven’t got the machine slung over your shoulder the length of the tube does allow you to stray a few feet from it. It does, however, make you feel like a dog tied to a post or a toddle on reins. Only once have I forgotten about it and luckily the machine is sturdy enough to have survived to fall to the ground. 

The Gale Tail!

9. Chug, Chug, Chug

Imagine the sound of an outboard motor or mini-generator ticking over – that’s what the machine sounds like. Apart from when you change the dressing, the machine is ticking over 24/7 from when you go to wake up to when you go to bed. When you are out and about, you can’t hear it over the general noise of day-to-day life but sit in a quite room or try to get to sleep and you can’t help be distracted by it chugging away.

10. You Need To Make Sure It’s Charged When Heading Out

Whilst writing this post in a coffee shop and about to head out for the day I checked the machine and noticed it was running low on juice. I’ve been pretty good keeping it topped up but I had been out for a walk in the morning which would have used up some of the power. This did mean returning back home to get the charger and then making sure I can sit near a plug socket when out.

I think the machine can last around 20 hours on a charge which allows you to do most things without worrying about being near a charger. I think it couldn’t have been charging overnight. Unfortunately it needs a mains power supply so you can’t quickly top it up with a power bank.

But Does It Work?

It’s still early days but judging by the photos I’ve been taking of the wound (at the request of my surgical care practitioner), it does appear to be healing rather well. probably best to save the latest wound photo for another post!

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Diagnosed with IBD in 2002, I have experienced the usual ups and downs of having a chronic disease and tried numerous medications but the time finally came in 2018 to elect to have surgery to improve my life.

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