One of the traditions in our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital is to spend a Saturday night in the Children's emergency room. This year, we visited the ER on Dec. 19. My associate, Deborah Schwartz, describes how the evening went:

Saturday night in the Children's Hospital's emergency room is much like a well-choreographed play. A life-and-death situation is not always unfolding, but there is constant action, and the roles are well defined for every member of the cast.

The two main characters are Daniel Ochsenschlager, the attending physician, and Sara Zimmerman, the nurse in charge. At any given time, four or five residents, six registered nurses, a licensed practical nurse, two technicians and a volunteer are also on hand.

As Saturday nights go, Dec. 19 was a slow one for the staff. But it could easily have been otherwise when a car accident brought in a 4 1/2-year-old and an 8-year-old by ambulance.

The emergency room's "code" team was called in because the 4 1/2-year-old's head had hit the windshield while the car was traveling more than 20 miles per hour. She had not been wearing a seat belt.

Sixteen people involved in the "code" rushed to the examining room. Twelve stationed themselves inside and four outside. But it was soon apparent that the child had not been hurt seriously. She was moved to a regular treatment room.

Each member of the "code team" was positioned around the patient to handle a certain task in case of a real trauma.

Meanwhile, the 8-year-old, who was not injured either, was helping ward clerk Shirley Parker track down her parents. The two girls had been riding in a car with the parents of the 4 1/2-year-old. The younger girl's parents were taken to Washington Hospital Center. The mother, who was nine months pregnant, began to have contractions shortly after the accident. The father suffered a leg injury.

On the other side of the nurses' station, Lisa Horton, a fellow in pediatrics, was taking a call from a hysterical mother, who had poured oil in her child's ear in an effort to treat an ear infection. The mother was not sure she had done the right thing. Rather than bring her child in, she called for a consultation.

Lisa patiently answered the mother's questions. But she was shaking her head.

"They don't have a doctor," explained Sara Zimmerman, who was sitting nearby and could not help but overhear. "People use this place as their primary health care {facility}. You can't see the kids, so you really can't tell what's wrong."

An 18-year-old in Room 5 has come in because she has ulcerative colitis and is bleeding. Children's admits her for observation. She's calm. The ER is routine for her. Ulcerative colitis is chronic, and this patient is an ER regular.

The triage nurse is the first ER staffer walk-in patients see. Saturday night, Sue Heidig was working triage. She decides which patients are sickest and sends them to the appropriate place in the ER.

Sue began to sound like a broken record by the end of the night. "Have you taken his temperature? What was his temperature? Did you give him any aspirin or Tylenol?" she repeated, as mother after mother brought in sick children.

The spirit of the season was alive in the ER. Plastic Santas hung on the walls, a miniature Christmas tree was propped against a wall and a gigantic teddy bear sat on top of a cart.

The spirits of the ER personnel were high, too. Many were in the 11th, 12th and 13th hours of 12-hour shifts. But this is a high-energy group.

At the nurses' station, Ron Winiewicz, a banker-turned-nursing student, was checking in his next patient. The child was about a month old and was having breathing problems. Despite a potentially serious situation, there was a sparkle in Ron's eyes.

"I love working here. People really, really care. I worked at the bank and part time here and I just fell in love with it here," Ron said.

Sue Heidig sent an 18-month-old girl who swallowed some bleach to Room 5. There, she would be started on an IV to prevent dehydration. Before the treatment began, the child seemed fine. But once the IV was started, she began to scream. Her worried mother was at her side to console her.

"Little kids want to look at, touch, then taste," Sara said, when asked why this child would drink bleach.

Meanwhile, in Room 6, a 16-year-old girl was lying despondently on a cot. She was raped earlier in the day. Her hands were clasped over her face as she waited to be transferred to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

Room 8 is one of the busier places in the ER. It's a holding room where children are sent when they are not in immediate danger. Patients will sometimes spend up to eight hours under direct observation. Sara Zimmerman fondly refers to Room 8 as "the vomitorium."

But on this Saturday night, no one in Room 8 was queasy. Most of the children were asthma patients. Nurse Cathy Bodie and third-year resident Stacy Nicholson were busy administering shots of adrenaline, which helps open up the bronchial tubes so asthma patients can breathe better.

At 11 p.m. most of the ER staff rotates assignments to keep from getting stale. It's as if they are starting a new shift. The difference is that many have been there since breakfast.

An 11-year-old girl was brought in by private ambulance from another hospital. She is asthmatic and was having a hard time breathing. The team in Room 8 took over.

"Stat treatment. We need her gas," one resident was overheard to say.

The shift change was over. The next act had begun.

We closed out the old year in a blaze of group dollars. Late '87 group donors to our campaign included:

The staff at The Lowell School ($156).

The staff at Stephenson Inc., Alexandria ($1,096 in honor of the president and founder, George W. Stephenson, with special hoorahs to vice president Vic Ignacio, who said he'd shave his beard of 21 years if the gang raised an extra $500. They did, so he did).

"Candy lovers" at Systemhouse Inc., Arlington ($25).

The Christmas Revellers, who describe themselves as a group of Dickensian carolers ($15).

The staff, Controller's Division, American Security Bank ($372, the 20th annual contribution from this bunch).

The Coffee Club, Office of Health and Environmental Assessment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ($100 in memory of Dr. Bernard H. Haberman).

Attorneys and staff, O'Connor & Hannan ($1,335).

Defense Printing Service ($685).

Bennington Teen Club ($42.50).

The staff, Gelman Library, George Washington University ($30).

St. Mary's Leisure Club, Clinton ($20).

Sue Chaillet's gang at C&P Telephone, Germantown ($69.69).

Cissel-Saxon Post No. 41, The American Legion, Silver Spring ($100 from the post, an additional $25 from the Past Commanders Club).

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.