7 Days in the Hospital: Reflections on Zero Waste, Plastic, and Life in General

When our three-year-old’s appendix ruptured, everything else in my life became insignificant. As our perfect world unraveled in the emergency room, all that mattered was making sure our son would be okay. I didn’t care that our six-year-old made multiple trips to the vending machine to buy packaged snacks in the middle of the night. I could only think about ultrasounds, CT scans, and our tiny guy in a big hospital bed.

After a traumatic 48 hours of waiting for test results and worrying about getting treatment, we were reassured that he would be just fine. And during the following days in the hospital, I did a lot of thinking…

Zero Waste is meaningless in the grand scheme. 

Zero Waste has been important to me for a while now, but it lost all meaning when my son was in danger, and I was reminded that it doesn’t matter at all in comparison to the health and happiness of my loved ones. I’m still passionate about Zero Waste, but my son’s hospital stay definitely put things in perspective. I don’t need to get upset when my husband brings home the occasional paper coffee cup or annoyed when my kids receive a party bag at a friend’s birthday. A little trash here and there is not the end of the world.

I don’t have to abandon my beliefs just because I have a good excuse.

It would’ve been easy to say, “I’m not doing Zero Waste while my son is in the hospital.” But once we knew his condition was stable it was easy to say, “I can do Zero Waste, even though my son is in the hospital.” After my mom brought the bare essentials from my Good2Go Kit, I was ready to take on the cafeteria, which actually had a lot of options for folks like me!

Plastic isn’t all that bad. 

I’ve done my fair share of plastic-bashing. But everything that saved my son was made of plastic; the IV bag of potassium chloride, the syringes injecting him with morphine, the gurney we were strapped to in the ambulance, the drains that were placed during surgery, and the wheelchair that allowed us to leave the hospital room during our stir-crazy spring break staycation. Plastic: I apologize. You might be a nuisance in the form of disposable straws, but I’m eternally grateful for your crucial role in the medical world.

There’s usually a less wasteful option. 

Zero Waste is a treasure hunt. No matter where you are, there are better choices waiting to be discovered. Look closely and be thoughtful. Why use a dozen paper towels per day when you can walk around the corner to the linen closet for a stack of washcloths? Why buy a bottle of water when you can refill your own at the cafeteria? If you search for a package-free/waste-free option, you’ll probably find one.

We are (extremely) lucky to live near family. 

I’ve always been thankful to live next door to my parents and grateful that my in-laws now live ten minutes up the road. My husband and I enjoy two date nights a month because of all those grandparents and we appreciate seeing our parents so often. But in a time of crisis, I became even more aware of how fortunate we are. Our parents brought necessities and comfort items for our little patient and supported us all with frequent visits. It was heart wrenching to be away from our older son for six nights, but we knew he was in the best of hands. It was so comforting to know that our parents would do anything and everything we needed.

Minimalism and tidiness never hurt.

After a year of downsizing and minimizing, telling my mom what to bring to the hospital was a snap. Everything at home was organized and I didn’t have to think twice about which clothes I wanted! And (not that they care, and not that it matters, but…) when my in-laws stayed at our house, it felt good knowing the place wasn’t a disaster. I had recently finished reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and had committed to the habit of keeping my house in order! (If scrapbooks were scattered haphazardly on the couch, it was just to keep the dog off!)


Being present is one of life’s greatest gifts.

I’ve always been thankful for what I have. My husband and I express our gratitude for our children, our life, and one another every day. So I can’t say I learned to be thankful. My husband and I both work half days and get to spend a ton of time with each other and with our kids. I’ve always known how fortunate I am to have so much time with my family. So I can’t say I learned how lucky I am to have time with my loved ones. But I did learn that time with those cherished people could end in the blink of an eye. And if we don’t spend that time wisely, we won’t experience life’s greatest gift. I could have all the time in the world with my loved ones, but if I’m not present, I’m missing it.

My head is constantly filled with thoughts and it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in them; when the kids are riding bikes or happily playing Legos, when I’m driving, when we’re going about our routine for showers, toothbrushing, and pajamas. Sometimes even when I’m in a conversation. My son’s experience in the hospital was a cherished reminder for me to LIVE IN THE MOMENT, especially with my children. To think about what’s happening right now. To engage, ask questions, and listen to their thoughts and opinions. To look into their eyes and feel their excitement when they tell me about school or their latest Lego contraptions. To be incredibly thankful every single time they hug me, kiss me, or want to cuddle. To lay with them and look up at the clouds. To play chase, police, and hide-and-go-seek. To be patient, positive, and kind, even when I’m frustrated. To be involved in the little moments as much as I possibly can and to appreciate them when I’m not directly involved (even overhearing a conversation between brothers while I’m folding laundry is a chance to admire the moment). My boys have my whole heart and make my life full. They’re getting bigger every day and I get to be part of it. There’s nothing I’m more grateful for. This short, wonderful life all comes down to enjoying the little moments that make it.





7 thoughts on “7 Days in the Hospital: Reflections on Zero Waste, Plastic, and Life in General

  1. Nadine July 4, 2016 / 3:33 pm

    First, I’m so glad that your son is safe, and that you have a more peaceful state of mind now! I think you make some excellent points here; it really is difficult to avoid plastic in hospitals, but this is probably also part of what can save a life. That is really sweet that your mom brought some supplies to you to help out. I broke my jaw last year and my mom (power to moms – they will do anything for their children, even if said children are almost 30 years old!) flew all the way from England to be with me and make sure I was okay. She knows how important ZW is to me too, and I was getting really frustrated with all the plastic waste in the hospital and during my recovery period. She did so much, like purchase stainless steel straws (my jaw was wired shut for 2 months), and she stocked my whole freezer with homemade soup, pureed and sieved so I could eat it. I had some “reflection time”, so I wrote about it: https://zerojourney.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/zero-waste-exceptions/

    Gratitude is a powerful thing ❤


    • Near-O Waste July 5, 2016 / 2:17 pm

      Oh, how sweet of your mom. And painful for you! Yes, gratitude is powerful and there are always exceptions 🙂 going to read your post now…


      • Nadine July 13, 2016 / 2:51 pm

        Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Annika July 4, 2016 / 7:08 pm

    This is a very thoughtful post which shows that there is always other things we sometimes forget when getting too absorbed in our own world – yet there is always a way to make things work for yourself. I agree that the key to everything is being mindful about our everyday life. Happy to hear that your son is okay now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ambdoa July 4, 2016 / 8:03 pm

    This is such a touching and precious post for me. Thanks for taking the time to share your deep feelings that act as inspiration to all of us, no matter what age!

    Liked by 1 person

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