CHILDREN WILL eat absolutely anything, and if your toddler has ever taken a swig of furniture polish or a handful of Grandma's heart pills, you have experienced true panic. Even parents who believe themselves to be reasonably competent, calm and well prepared go to pieces when a child swallows an open safety pin or a hotel from the Monopoly set. Sometimes these accidents end in tragedy; often they do little harm. But in every case, expert help and specific instructions are needed immediately. That's when to call the National Capital Poison Center at Georgetown University Hospital. You'll be in good hands as soon as the first ring is answered.

The Poison Center, established at Georgetown Hospital at the request of the Metropolitan Council of Governments, is supported entirely by the hospital and by private donations. Registered nurses are at the phones 24 hours a day every day of the year and handle about 30,000 emergencies annually. With computerized data on 290,000 household products, drugs and plants, they will tell you in a matter of seconds exactly what to do. If your case is one of the majority that can be handled at home, the center will call you back within half an hour to be sure that you have understood and followed their directions, and they will check back the next day. About 15 percent of the cases will be sent to a hospital immediately, and in that event, the center calls ahead so that the emergency room is ready. All this is handled by the nurses in a manner that is not simply efficient, but kind and reassuring to the caller. That's just what is needed at a time of stress and confusion, especially if the patient is a small child.

The center serves the entire metropolitan area-- they will even accept collect calls from Loudon and Prince William Counties--providing help when it's needed and peace of mind by being constantly available. We are blessed to have this fine free service in our community. The emergency number is 625-3333. Tape it to your kitchen telephone now.