Article written By Stacy S. Kim and sourced from NYTimes.
When my daughter was hospitalized for cancer treatment, I began collecting leftover condiments and medical supplies in an effort to control something in our uncontrollable world.
When my daughter got cancer, I began hoarding ketchup packets and digital thermometers.
Gillian was 11 when we learned the lingering knee pain was osteosarcoma in her right femur. The treatment protocol for this rare bone disease was a nine-month course of aggressive chemotherapy. Each of the almost-weekly infusions required at least a three-night hospital stay.
My husband, Kyle, and I took turns sleeping by her side. Her 13-year-old sister, Allison, gave up time with friends to have dinner with her. Sharing a room with another patient’s family meant twice as many late-night awakenings and no privacy.
Gillian was the model patient. She endured painful blisters on her feet, and when she had to throw up she made sure to use a bin so nurses wouldn’t have to change her sheets. She entertained herself with books, origami paper and sketchpads. This wasn’t surprising. Even as a toddler, she had designed independent projects so I could build my life coaching practice. Once while I worked, she manufactured a pair of spectacles from Kleenex and water.
But, when I crawled into her hospital bed to snuggle and kiss her good night, she regularly sobbed quietly in my arms. As much as I tried, I couldn’t stop my tears from trickling down my cheeks onto her soft bald head.
I had been raised not to complain, but to “always give thanks” and cherish the little we had. My parents were Korean immigrants, a Presbyterian minister and a teacher. If I couldn’t finish dinner, my father would tap his chopsticks against the edge of the table to a slow timed beat.
“Every few seconds, a child dies of hunger,” he would say. Feeling guilty, I cleaned my plate.
Perhaps this is why I had taken up an obsession with hospital waste. For each overnight stay, we received two brand-new digital thermometers, a stethoscope, a pulse-ox finger band and a blood pressure arm band. Watching the maintenance staff clean half of the room after each of Gillian’s roommates was discharged, I saw these and more go into the garbage — even new items with packaging untouched.
I asked one of the head nurses, “Why not reuse unopened items?”
“Once supplies leave the ‘clean room’ they can’t go back.”
When Gillian was too nauseated to touch any food, I tried to stop the kitchen aide from tossing items on her tray. I suggested she return the sealed milk, yogurt and Jell-O.
“I can’t. I’ll get into trouble!”
The wastefulness irked me. Ignoring advice I often gave my clients — to go easy on oneself in times of stress — I took up the fight to conserve. I started taking things home.
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