It's an annual tradition--spending a Saturday night in the emergency room near Christmas as part of our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital. My assistant, Lynn Ryzewicz, and I were in the ER on the evening of Dec. 18. We chose a busy night. Lynn's report:

Mamadou, 6, lay on a stretcher in the hallway of the emergency room, awaiting surgery.

He had been diagnosed with appendicitis at a nearby hospital earlier in the evening. He was transferred to Children's because the first hospital thought Children's could provide better care.

But the hallway was the only place the staff could put him. All of the examining rooms in the ER were taken.

Saturday night was not wildly exciting for the Children's ER staff, but it was relentlessly busy. A major reason was the weather.

The night was cold, so the number of asthmatics increased dramatically. Cold air narrows the airways of some asthmatics, causing symptoms in many patients and attacks in some. Most examining rooms were filled by patients who wore oxygen masks.

The boy in Trauma Room 1 had nothing wrong with his breathing, however. His name was Tariq, he was 1 year old, and he had a "foreign body" wedged in his ear, according to his status report on the main ER bulletin board.

That morning, his mother had been cleaning his ears. In the left one, she noticed what she thought was a small pebble. Although Tariq was not crying or complaining, his mother wanted the object removed.

Dr. David Kanter used nasal decongestant to shrink the membranes around the object, allowing him to remove the object with a thin basket-like tool. The basket caught the obstruction and dragged it out.

It turned out to be a kernel of corn.

"A new and different way of eating," Kanter cracked.

Tariq's mother said the last time her son had eaten corn was on Thanksgiving, when the family was visiting relatives in North Carolina.

She remembered Tariq's grandmother mentioning that the boy was tugging on his ear during Thanksgiving dinner. But Tariq had given no indication since then that anything was wrong, his mother told the ER staff.

Tariq, who has the size and build of a 3-year-old, cried for only five minutes as Kanter worked on his ear. By the time the kernel of corn was removed, it had been lodged in his ear for more than three weeks.

Kanter said it is common to remove beads, stones and bugs from the ears, eyes and noses of ER patients. But a piece of corn is fairly rare, he said.

"One thing I've learned, [kids] can do anything," Kanter said.

In Examining Room 2, across the hall, the patient was just as silent as Tariq had been. But his case was more serious.

Pierce, 10, was bleeding from the neck and face. He had been bitten eight times by his own dog.

The family's chow chow, an often temperamental breed, escaped from the family home Saturday afternoon. Pierce ran after it. He cornered the dog in a nearby field.

Apparently feeling threatened, the dog attacked Pierce. The attack left deep wounds on Pierce's neck, cheeks, nose and lips.

Pierce came into the emergency room with his parents and his grandmother. The family talked in low voices while explaining the child's condition and questioning doctors.

Joseph Wright, an emergency care physician at Children's for the past nine years, said the staff's first priority was to clean out the lacerations and prepare the boy for plastic surgery. Minor cuts are stitched up in the ER, but these were too deep, Wright said.

Even though Pierce's wounds were serious, Wright said he expected the boy to recover without significant scarring.

By 11:30 p.m., the pace of the ER had begun to relax a bit. Tariq had fallen asleep in his mother's arms and been taken home. Pierce's wounds had been cleaned, and he was awaiting word from a plastic surgeon.

An 11-day-old infant in Room 11 was ready to be admitted--he was suffering from jaundice. A 13-year-old girl, who had been diagnosed as having a bipolar personality, had been sent to an ER conference room to meet with a psychiatrist. A 1-year-old girl named De'shay was going home, having been given medication for her fever.

Mamadou was due for a room any minute.

Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.

In hand as of Dec. 20: $173,068.38.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.