Monday, May 31, 2004


Recycling and utilizing available resources is something that I support, but I saw an innovative, yet initially disturbing, implementation of that ideal the other night. It's ingenious, yet a bit morbid.

Every so often, there will be a patient that dies while I am on call. I'd say that I've pronouced about one person every 8 weeks. Being that the population of people that I watch over on any given call night are those relegated to the ICU for various diagnoses minimally compatible with life, death is inevitable and it lurks in the corner of most of my patient's rooms. Yet, I still find myself surprised when a patient actually dies.

Last night, one of these sick patients finally gave up the ghost. While completing the paperwork that comes with death, I noticed that one of the nurses was emptying the contents of the TPN bag into some empty saline bottles. Curious, I asked him why he didn't just flush the TPN down the drain, or toss it in the trash like he did with the bags of pressors and inotropes. Was there some recycling policy when it came to TPN? Did pathology want samples of the TPN for the post mortem analysis? Did pharmacy want it for some bizarre reason?

Turns out that this nurse takes home the TPN to feed to his plants. "Better than any fertilizer or Miracle-Gro!" Whenever he hears of a patient dying in the unit, he wanders over to their room, and if the patient was on TPN, he takes it home. So why the saline bottles? Easy, it has a lid so he won't spill it.

I was initially disturbed with this, but it made sense. Why throw away something that still has some use? TPN has all these minerals and vitamins, and if it's good enough for people, it should be good enough for plants. The more I thought about it, the less bizarre the idea, and then I thought of my own little cactus "Sucky the Succulent" and took home some TPN in a specimen cup for myself.