No one wants to pull hospital duty on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day either, for that matter. Working as I do in a children's hospital, Christmas duty can be both a heartbreaking and heartwarming experience. But when I drew the assignment for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I tried to make the best of it. We hosted a visit by a merry Santa Claus who spread cheer throughout the hospital as he distributed gifts to delighted youngsters, and we stuffed stockings with toys that the patients would wake up to the next morning.
As we worked busily in the staff office, there was a knock on the door. It was a teenage patient who was familiar to us all. He had been in and out of the hospital several times during the past year, and we had grown very fond of him. Despite his own serious condition, he was a warm and generous-hearted boy. He always took the time to scoop the younger patients up in his arms and give them rides in his wheelchair, read bedtime stories to them, or initiate water-gun fights, which distracted the children and filled them with glee.
Jimmy had just been readmitted to the hospital and had come to our office to offer his help in stuffing the stockings. We were taken aback that this feisty teenager had allowed himself to be admitted—at all times!—on Christmas Eve. Why hadn't he waited until the following morning? Didn't he want to stay home with his family and open presents?
A sad expression stole over Jimmy's face. "No," he answered, "it would be worse for me to stay home." He explained that his parents couldn't afford what he really wanted for Christmas.
"What do you want?" we asked, hoping against hope that it was something we had already heaped in one of the overstuffed stockings.
"A Nintendo 64," he answered.
Our shoulders sagged in disappointment. It was certainly not among the items we had amassed in our office. We gently reminded him that the Nintendo 64 was the hottest-selling Christmas item that year.
"I know," he said wistfully. "It's just that I thought if I got one, then maybe my brothers would stay home more often and play the games with me, instead of leaving me alone."
Our hearts broke for Jimmy, but we couldn't fulfill his one—maybe his last—holiday wish: Even if the toy had been available, every single store in our neighborhood was closed.
Christmas morning, my department beeper went off at 6:30. Surprised, I called in to see what was up, and the secretary in the emergency room said that she was going off duty and wanted to give me a gift that had been dropped off during the night. I asked her to open the wrappings in order to determine whether the gift should be left at Security or remain in the ER. She could not fathom why I started sobbing when she told me it was a Nintendo 64.
"How did it get to the emergency room?" I sniffled.
"Some people dropped it off at about 1 a. m.," she said. "They asked us to give it to a patient in the hospital who would enjoy it."
There are no words to describe Jimmy's face when he opened that package or his smile as his brothers sat with him in his room for hours playing Nintendo.
I rummaged through the bag in which the Nintendo had been left and found a credit card receipt. I called information and found a listing. A woman answered the phone, and when I asked if she was the one who had dropped off the Nintendo the previous night, she answered yes. Together, she and her son had stopped at the hospital with the gift.
How did they come to bring a Nintendo 64?
"Oh, it's a long story," she said.
"Please tell me," I begged.
"Well," she began, "my son is engaged to a woman who lives in a different state. She has two boys by a previous marriage, and they wanted a Nintendo 64 for Christmas. Because the toy is so popular, it wasn't readily available in the small town where she lives, so she asked my son to try to get one for her here. He, too, experienced difficulty in obtaining one—it seems to be quite a hot item this year. When he called her a few days ago to announce triumphantly 'Mission Accomplished!' he had finally bought one, she laughed and said she had just bought one too, that very same day!
"We were returning from services last night when I noticed the Nintendo on his back seat. I asked him what he was planning to do with the extra one, and he said, 'Return it when I get the time.' Just then, we happened to be passing the children's hospital so I impulsively said, `How about donating it to a sick child instead