Rick Long's Stories
February 17, 2005
The Toy Run
By Rick Long
Christmas has always been my favorite holiday. I am of the faith that celebrates a birthday during this time but I
fully respect those that celebrate the season for other reasons. What makes this holiday my favorite is the sense
of â€œdoing for othersâ€� that seems to prevail in people all over the world.
Since the infamous Life magazine article on the goings on at Hollister in the late 1940â€™s, the image of
motorcyclists in the general publicâ€™s eye isnâ€™t always favorable. One of the largest efforts to turn this
image around is an event known as the Toy Run. For decades now, motorcycle clubs, whether social or
outlaw, have come together at Christmas time to collect toys for children in need.
A rather large run of this type occurs each December to support the pediatric patients at Loma Linda
University Childrenâ€™s Hospital. The University has both an adult and a childrenâ€™s hospital but it is their
pediatric expertise that brings the most notoriety, with the one exception of Dr. Sean Bush, the snake-bite
expert and main focus of the Discovery Channel show, â€œVenom ER.â€� The pediatric side of the hospital
includes units that specialize in Medical Intensive Care, Cardiac Intensive Care, Oncology (cancer), Neonatal
(newborn) Intensive Care and several units for more basic, yet still important, pediatric problems.
Quaid Brothers Harley-Davidson dealership in Loma Linda, California, serves as the meeting place for this toy
run. A multitude of motorcyclists representing every brand and style show up with all manner of games, stuffed
animals, paint sets, you name it they bring it, toy for the Child Life Department. This is the group of hospital
employees responsible for making sure that kids in the hospital still get to be kids.
Some of the toys are distributed to the patients who are in the hospital during the Christmas season. The truth
is, those kids get a lot of toys from other sources including local grocery chain stores, home stores, and other
groups that want to help out. Rather than immediately distributing the massive amount of toys collected from
the toy run to the patients, a good bit of the loot is stashed away for distribution throughout the year. This
doesnâ€™t slight the kids spending Christmas in the hospital one bit. What it does is make the toy run an event
that benefits the hospital all year long.
During the part of the toy run that occurs at the hospital, some of the patients that are well enough to go outside
are brought out by their parents or nurses and allowed to mingle with the crowd and look at the bikes. I
noticed some of the bikers getting misty-eyed when they saw the kids. Since my main job is working as a
freelance Registered Nurse, I am used to working with kids who are in wheelchairs, have intravenous fluids
infusing into their veins, have tubes running into places no one would want a tube to go, and have every manner
of wound dressing for traumatic injuries ranging from bicycle accidents to SUV rollovers. In other words, Iâ
€™m used to seeing pretty grim sights and forget sometimes that other people arenâ€™t accustomed to this in
their daily life.
If you want to know who gets the most tearful during this time, look for the biggest, burliest, meanest looking,
most-tattooed, bad boy in the bunch. This is the guy that will be crying the most. Yes, bikers have hearts no
matter how hard they might try to hide this fact the rest of the year.
So what do I do when the kids are wandering about? Oh, thatâ€™s when I get to be mister tough guy. Club
members I ride with who know I am a nurse come up and say, â€œHow do you stand to work here
everyday? Iâ€™d be a basket case.â€� I just smile and say something like, â€œI know Iâ€™m helping them
when I have to stick them with a needle, insert a tube into their GI tract, or pump their chest during a Code
Blue episode.â€� Yep, itâ€™s tough guy Nurse Rick on the job taking on the gruesome tasks. No tears for
me at the toy run. No sir.
A few days later, on Christmas Eve, I was working at the pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Loma
Linda. This hospital pioneered infant heart transplants, with Dr. Leonard Bailey leading the cause. They also
repair malfunctioning hearts on almost a daily basis. One of the Child Life Specialists came up to me during the
afternoon and said, â€œYour patient is being discharged today, right?â€�
â€œYes. Getting out just in time for Christmas, â€œ I replied.
Christmas Eve in the hospital is an emotional day. The patients that are well enough to be discharged are
rejoicing in their ability to spend Christmas Day at home. A lot of work goes into discharging patients. Pulling
out intravenous lines and other tubes, redressing wounds, and teaching patients and parents how to care for the
child until the next doctor visit are all part of the process. The patients that arenâ€™t well enough to go home
are resigning themselves to the idea of spending Christmas in their hospital room. Itâ€™s not so bad really,
thanks to efforts like the toy run, but it still is not the same as going home for the holidays.
â€œYour patientâ€™s little sister told us that Mommy and Daddy said Santa Clause wasnâ€™t coming to
their house this year because brother had been sick in the hospital too many times.â€� At that moment, she
pointed to a tall stack of presents in a red wagon. â€œWe took some gifts from the toy run, wrapped them,
and put the names of the all the kids in their family on them. Make sure they get these before they leave.â€�
Iâ€™ll tell you straight up, a pack of wild horses couldnâ€™t have prevented me from delivering those gifts. I
watched all afternoon for the return of the parents and upon discharging the patient, I personally took the
wagonload of toys downstairs and helped them load them into the family car. As they drove down the lane in
front of the hospital, where hundreds of bikes loaded with toys had been parked just days before, the littlest
face of the littlest sister sprung up in the back window and waved goodbye. I didnâ€™t cry. No sir, not me.
Just tough guy Nurse Rick being part of the team that was helping out a family in need.
On this unit, most of the patients arenâ€™t going home this year for Christmas. I had one of the only
discharges and having that task done, I turned my attention to my other patient who would be staying; a heart
surgery infant, just a few days old, whose only Christmas dinner would be bland formula dripped down a tube
through her nose into her stomach with intravenous fluids in her foot for desert. Her mom sat most of the day in
a chair by the crib, hopefully watching her child, wondering if next Christmas would be better.
It was about this time that the dayshift Charge Nurse came through the door. (No, we donâ€™t call them
Head Nurses anymore and you biker boys know why so donâ€™t go there). She handed an envelope to each
set of parents in the room and left. As they opened the envelopes, a collaborative labor of love became
apparent. Seems the evening shift Charge Nurse went around the unit in the middle of the night and made a
digital picture of each patient lying in his or her crib, with tubes, dressings, and all, then went to Kinkoâ€™s
after work and made a personalized Christmas card for each family with their little cherubâ€™s picture on the
The outpouring of thanks over that set of Christmas cards was tremendous. You could see the joy in the eyes
of each parent as they discovered their childâ€™s picture on their card. I have every faith that those cards will
occupy a special page in a baby book or family album that will be cherished for years to come. I donâ€™t
think there was a dry eye in the house, parent or staff, after the delivery of those cards.
And tough guy Nurse Rick? After seeing the card for my patient, I walked over by the windows and looked
out on the area where my bike had parked with the others last weekend. I thought about the toys that went
home with my other patient. I thought about the warehouse full of toys waiting to be distributed throughout the
coming year. And I thought about the patient behind me whose mother would hold that personalized Christmas
card dear to her heart for decades to come. I felt a small tear roll down my cheek.
Alright, there were a bunch of big ones rolling down but Iâ€™m still tough guy Nurse Rickâ€¦ most of the time.