Nurse designs mosaic with 10,000 pieces of discarded hospital plastic

From syringes to medicine caps, Tilda Shalof has found a way to remember three decades of patients.

In her three decades as a nurse at Toronto General Hospital, Tilda Shalof has seen a lot of syringes. And medicine caps and lids and IV tubes and other connectors as well.

"I was using these things and I was like everyone else. I'd throw them out," she recalled. "And then I thought, gee, they're so cute. They're so pretty. They remind me of so many moments I've had with patients. So I started to just put them in my pocket rather than throw them out."

That was back in 1987. Over the years, she soon found herself with bags upon bags of this stuff in storage, all clean and never touched by patients. She never knew what she wanted to do with it.

The finished piece uses about 10,000 pieces of plastic.The finished piece uses about 10,000 pieces of plastic. (Photo: Facebook)

Flash forward to the present day: After three decades of nursing, she was ready to retire from the ICU. But she wanted to leave a mark. She showed her artist friend, Vanessa Herman-Landau, the bag of plastic detritus, and they concocted a plan: They would put together a mosaic. They began with a single bright orange cap from a shot of adrenaline used to revive patients during cardiac arrest.

Over a year later, they've completed their work of art. The incredibly intricate 9-foot-by-4-foot mosaic now hangs on the wall at Toronto General Hospital. The finished product contains 10,000 pieces. "I hope young doctors and young nurses see this and hopefully it makes them remember that all these little things we do are huge for the patient," she said. "Each thing that we did with each little piece of plastic meant so much to the patient. And that's really what this mural represents."

“I can use 100 of these in a day,” Shalof said about an assortment of lids, tabs and connectors. “Each one tells a story for me.”'I can use 100 of these in a day,' Shalof said about an assortment of lids, tabs and connectors. 'Each one tells a story for me.' (Photo: Facebook)

The 58-year-old Shalof got her start nursing in Tel Aviv, Israel, where she traveled to after graduating from nursing school in Canada. It was in that Mediterranean country where she worked in a hospital for the first time, finding adventure and young love in the process. That story is told in her memoir "The Making of a Nurse." (In addition to that one, she has authored five other books on nursing.)

She sees this new piece of art as a culmination of her years helping others. "I hope this mural is a moment of mindfulness. You do nursing for this long and you use these things – to me they represent all that work and all that care that I gave." It's also a way for her to remember all her patients from over the years. "They will always stay with me. I treasure those memories of all the patients I've cared for."

And Shalof is not retiring. While she has left the fast pace and the long hours of the ICU, she is now working at Toronto Western Hospital in their radiology department. And she still goes back to her old job to look at the mural. “For families, it can be a cheerful, joyful thing to look at,” she told the Toronto Star. “For nurses, I think it shows that all the little things that we do every day add up to big things for each person we treat."

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