Sometimes the checks that arrive for Children's Hospital need explanations that are not provided. One example would be a check for $54.40 that arrived over the weekend. There was no covering letter in the envelope.
Was the $54.40 sent by a history student who had just learned about the "54-40 or fight" slogan that evolved from the controversy over the fixing of the Oregon Territory border? Was it from a tither who had been paid a $544 year-end bonus or had hit a $544 exacta at the race track? We'll never know. The giver chose not to say, and we have no right to pry.
Some checks are accompanied by brief and cryptic comments like, "In memory of Mary" or "In gratitude for being spared." One can sense the stories behind such gifts but, here again, it would be unseemly to intrude into the private thoughts of the giver.
Occasionally I receive checks that are explained in simple language that stirs powerful emotions. Yesterday's mail, for example, contained a $25 check and a letter that said: "We have supported the hospital for several years. It did not occur to us that one day we would see our money in action.
"Last January, I was delivered by cesarean section of a son. The baby had water in his lungs, a common but potentially dangerous condition that occurs primarily in children born surgically. Our pediatrician said, 'When the best is available, why not use it? Send him to Children's Hospital.'
"Children's dispatched a pediatric ambulance to pick up our 2-hour-old infant. The ambulance was staffed by a neonatologist, a neonatal R.N., a paramedic and a driver. They were unbelievably kind and supportive. You would have thought they were fetching a prince of the realm rather than the son of a middle class family. I could go on for many pages about the thoughtful, professional and sympathetic personnel at Children's. They were all wonderful to us and to our little one. We are people without influence or social standing, yet our child's life mattered to them as much as it mattered to us."
Within 24 hours, the child was out of danger, and in the past year has progressed as any other normal, healthy baby would. "He has been a delight to us," the letter concluded. "Instead of giving him a birthday party, we are sending you the money for the hospital -- in honor of our pediatrician."
Would you like to know about a few others? A note with a check for $18 said, "Our 8-day-old son was miraculously saved at Children's Hospital 18 years ago. We wish we could pay full value for the pleasure he has given us, but we are not millionaires."
Another letter, with $50 enclosed, said, "After riding my bike into the side of a moving car and ending up with only cuts and bruises, I decided to send you more than I usually do. I am very lucky that only the bike needed replacement parts."
A government worker wrote, "This $50 check represents my net profit on a government trip. The Congressional Budget Office insists on reimbursing employees at a flat rate per diem, even when actual expenses are less. Now you know how some of your tax dollars are spent."
A check for $25 came with this explanation, "Several years ago, my husband and I decided to start a family. We were apprehensive because my husband's family has a history of bone disease. We went to Children's Hospital for genetic counseling. The doctors there were very helpful and told us our chances of having a healthy baby were excellent. We now have a beautiful 4-month-old boy who brings us great joy."
A $10 check was sent in by a young woman who wrote, "This Christmas, my mom and dad opened a checking account for me with a $10 deposit. After reading your column today, I decided that if a widow on a pension could scrape together $5, I could send $10." Under the signature was the identifying line, "World's Greatest Grandchild. My grandmother says so."
The sums mentioned in today's column will be included in tomorrow's tally. If your own check has not yet been mailed, please take a look at the calendar and get a wiggle on. Our fund drive ends on Jan. 31. How would you feel if that deadline passed without your having lifted a finger to help a hospital that has lived with a built-in deficit for more than 100 years because it never turns away a sick child?
Please help Children's Hospital keep its doors open to the needy. My mailing address is: Bill Gold, care of The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071. Thank you.