Seeing pointless medical waste giving blood

April 24, 2024 by Joshua
in Stories

I gave blood today. The medical system never ceases to shock me with its needless waste, senseless rules ostensibly based in safety but clearly not, and mindlessly following those rules without question.

For context, I met an NYU researcher, Cassandra Thiel, who researched and published on comparing an operation performed in two hospitals, one in the UK, the other in India. The Indian hospital impacted the environment five percent—that is, one twentieth—as much as the UK hospital for the same operation, and got at least as good patient results!

Here are some articles on Thiel and her research:

Also, a few weeks ago I got a PSA test, which tests for prostate cancer. Before I could stop them, they started using disposable stuff. I asked if they could avoid using some things. They asked why. I explained I wanted to reduce hurting people. A couple nurses got curious and a small group gathered around to hear why I would take home the gauze to my garbage to account for it and that I expected to take another few years to fill that load. They were happy not to use band aids and anything unnecessary.

Today went differently. I tried to avoid gauze and asked if I could use my own. The nurse appeared to take it personally and got annoyed. For some reason I don’t understand, she opened a couple satchets of gauze to show them to me, then went to throw them away unused.

Anyway, our medical system wastes like crazy, falling back on claiming safety or following rules set by some government agency, but anyone can tell they are just spouting words they don’t know are accurate or not.

I know how bureaucracies work. I’m not talking about frustration at a broken system (I can’t cite sources, but I’m pretty sure I remember seeing an analysis of whether health care was overall helping or hurting when you take into account the lives hurt by its waste). I’m talking about what sustainability takes to start: not technology, not laws, not market incentives. We have to face the actual challenges people face and solve them.

Why I Try to Live More Sustainably

Why do I explore limits? Most of the time, like the PSA time, people are happy to engage. I didn’t ask the people to come in from the other room to hear my story. They were curious and started asking questions.

I do it because people, our limiting beliefs, our momentum, and related inhibitions are the challenges of sustainability, not missing technology, laws, or market incentives. Those things are smokescreens to hide taking on the low-level operational challenges of what to do, with whom, how, etc. I explore limits so you don’t have to. I could have developed my practice of living more joyfully sustainably decades earlier if I’d had role models doing what I learned to do.

I don’t expect people to follow me by example. I expect that knowing someone has done something they could and enjoyed it will make it easier for them. People who did the workshop transition in weeks what took me years, sometimes over a decade.

As I wrote recently, The problems of sustainability as more social than scientific. Overcoming them will take practice and exploring frontiers more than funding research into technologies.

Anyway, here’s me giving blood. They wouldn’t even let me take the waste they produced with me home. They insisted on putting it in their garbage for their medical waste handler to burn it, though they told me to keep a band aid on my fingertip (something about testing hemoglobin) and an elastic thing that kept the gauze on where they took the blood.

I know some people in medicine. I’ll see if I can find a way to try giving blood without producing so much garbage. Naysayers will say, “stop causing problems, Josh,” but I guarantee some medical person will engage for some intrinsic motivation or frustration at how much they waste and will thank me for prompting them to act on something they wanted to for a long time. Then instead of saying, “stop causing problems, Josh,” after I solve it they’ll say anyone could have done it. They don’t realize they are as much a problem as anyone.

Here are some action shots.

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