Nancy Reagan paid her annual Christmas visit to Children's Hospital Medical Center yesterday, and although she eventually ran out of Huggins -- the highly huggable dolls donated for the occasion -- she never ran out of hugs.
She gave them away to toddlers and teen-agers alike as she toured the 263-bed private, nonprofit facility that has been treating children for 115 years.
Not all the hugs were physical. Some were psychological, conveyed in a word or two that boosted the spirit, as in the case of Kathleen Daley of Reston. She is the mother of three children -- two of whom are hospitalized, in the last stages of a degenerative neurological disease, she told a reporter.
"That's my daughter in there," Daley told the first lady, guiding her into the room of Eileen Daley, 17, who had fallen asleep. "She was so excited that you were coming, but she couldn't wait."
Mrs. Reagan stood looking at Eileen for a few minutes without saying anything, then accompanied the young woman's mother down the hall to where Benjamin Daley, 14, lay awake but unsmiling.
"One little smile?" coaxed his mother gently.
"He's trying," Mrs. Reagan reassured her.
Sometimes the first lady propped up one of the Hallmark/Kenner dolls at the foot of a child's bed, sometimes she helped snuggle it into a youngster's arms. When one tot told her he wanted to be a doctor like his father, she told him, "It's a good thing to make a lot of people happy and well, so a doctor's a good thing to be."
She talked to children just out of surgery, children in isolation, children being treated for various types of cancer, depressed children and children injured in home accidents and automobile crashes. She marveled at the courage of some children, visibly in pain and discomfort, admiring the "bravery awards" mounted on their beds.
She stroked the heads of infants as young as six days old, patted hands of youngsters who told her they "ache," nuzzled toddlers with dazzling smiles and consoled a few who started to cry. And when one tot handed back her Huggins and told Mrs. Reagan to "hold this for a minute," she did so, asking in wide-eyed obedience, "Is there anything else you'd like me to do?"
Among gifts under the tree in the hospital lobby were the teddy bears President and Mrs. Reagan had taken to Sunday's "Christmas in Washington" TV special. Ivan Monroe, 10, of Washington, received the pin-stripe-suited boy bear and Laura Childers, 9, of College Park, the girl bear.
When she arrived at the hospital, Mrs. Reagan played go-between for NBC, AT&T, General Motors and USF&G Insurance, sponsors of the annual TV show, by presenting their check for $25,000 to hospital board Chairman Raymond Brophy and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Perry.
Mrs. Reagan didn't go home empty handed. There were cards -- including a specially framed one by Chris Schaum, 6, that proclaimed "Share the Spirit" -- posters wishing her a Merry Christmas, and a red carnation, which she tucked into a buttonhole in her jacket.
But her two-hour visit proved too much for the flower. "Oh dear, my flower just disappeared," she lamented at the end of her tour, noticing the stem, sans petals.
"I think," she said, "it was all that hugging."