Every week on Geekology, I take a closer look at what’s happening in the geek world. The opinions expressed in Geekology articles are mine and mine alone. Blame me, everyone. Blame me.
I’m walking to a meeting at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital. I pass by the emergency room, and I peer through the glass doors.
The last time I was at a hospital like SVMH, I was a child going through a routine procedure. I was calm — from the wheelchair ride to the operating room and up until the nurse put the gas mask over my mouth and nose.
I breathed in deeply at first, but something came over me. I panicked and started to thrash, pulling against the arms that held me down. I think I screamed — I definitely started to kick. I fought the drowsiness as long as I could until I finally fell asleep.
Since then, I’ve been afraid of hospitals — a feeling many others probably share. No one wakes up wanting to go to a hospital. For many, it’s a last resort or a final visit. It’s having to say goodbye or finding out how long you have left before your body totally falls apart.
I heard about Extra Life from a buddy of mine who ran a video game website. He encouraged us to sign up, so I did. From what I gathered, Extra Life was a day set aside for playing video games for charity. Like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s or Relay for Life, people all over the world set aside time to perform an activity to raise awareness and bring in some money for a non-profit.
Community service activities are easy to sign up for and easy to flake on. I didn’t raise a single dollar for my first Extra Life event, and it was for a total lack of trying. As much as the thought of raising money sounded nice, I had too many other things to keep me busy.
Fast forward a decade or so, and I see a post that Extra Life 2015 is ready to kick off again for its next yearly event day. I sign up, invite a few friends, and post a link on the Twitch channel I barely use.
This time I’m going to try harder.
According to the Children’s Miracle Network, 150,000 babies are born each year with birth defects — that means 411 each day. One out of five children have a minor chronic illness, and cancer is the leading cause of death for children under 15.
CMN hospitals — SVMH is one of more than 170 around the country — treat 98% of all children who need heart or lung transplants, 88% of those with cancer, and 72% with pediatric AIDS.
For parents who can’t afford things like ramps or wheelchairs, CMN helps cover costs to provide items that aren’t deemed “necessary” by insurance providers.
And while the reality for most people is that they have their own worries to take care of, the reality for those raising and caring for a sick child is a tough one that becomes an upward climb as the cost of living and medical care continues to rise.
That’s what the Children’s Miracle Network is for — giving directly to those who need it most.
I meet Melissa Gross in the hospital coffee shop. She’s the director for the CMN at SVMH, and she makes it clear that Extra Life money doesn’t pay her salary as she’s an employee of the hospital. All of the proceeds go directly to kids.
She buys me a coffee and opens a bag filled with lanyards, buttons, and pens. She pulls out a folder to bring me up to speed.
A month or so before, Melissa reached out to me after seeing a Facebook post I made for Extra Life 2016. The year previous, my friends and I raised a few hundred dollars, and I made a few connections on Twitch. This year, I wanted to raise the bar — I’ve already beaten my total from last year, and I can’t wait to exceed my $1,000 goal as the Nov. 6 event date approaches.
The folder contains sign-up sheets and some basic information. There are also some laminated inserts with the pictures of local children who have been helped by donations to the CMN. There’s Molly, the girl with Cerebral Palsy who loves video games. She received a specialized tricycle to keep her core and leg muscles strong. Identical twins Felicity and Seraphina were born eight weeks early and spent their first 42 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Melissa explains that while we traditionally measure our lives in weeks, months, and years — pregnancies, birthdays, anniversaries — for some babies time is measured in minutes, hours, days. For Seraphina and Felicity, a bead string was created. For every test, procedure, needle stick, and overnight stay — for every important event in their life that kept them healthy or proved they were surviving — another bead was added to the string. When the last beads were threaded, their strings were five-feet long.
“I’m sorry to dump all this information on you,” Melissa apologizes, but I don’t mind at all. It’s one thing to know that Extra Life helps kids — it’s another to see the actual faces and read their stories. This is real.
“I love my job,” Melissa says, and she talks about some of the children she’s never met but who have been helped by her fundraising efforts. Then, she talks about the children she has to say goodbye to.
When I was an infant, I came down with whooping cough. My parents, as poor as they were, resorted to selling their wedding rings in order to keep me alive.
It’s actually one of my earliest memories, though I didn’t know what was going on at the time. I remember my parents at a counter, and I had just learned to walk. I steadied myself against the wooden counter as my parents preoccupied themselves with the matter of haggling a better price for their rings. I remember feeling this great sadness as my mom wept, and I walked to the shop’s exit, steadying myself with one hand as I lumbered away from father.
He realized I had walked outside, and he rushed out to get me. He picked me up, but his face was sad.
Years later, my mother told me about the day she sold her ring. “We did it to save you.”
I put one and one together.
“I remember that day,” I told her. “I remember.”
Some gamers have tunnel vision.
You ever watch a friend die over and over trying to make the same jump on a platform game like Super Mario Bros.?
“I don’t get why I can’t make this jump!” they scream, losing life after life.
“It’s because you’re supposed to go into that pipe over there!” you say, exasperated.
They say doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. By those words, many of us gamers are as insane as can be. We jump into the fray, guns blazing, then die a quick and painful death. Red washes over our television screens, the game reloads, then we do the exact same thing and complain.
When Extra Life was created, it was a chance for many gamers to put their passions to use for a greater cause. While we die a million deaths in our video games, the money donated to charity literally saves lives.
For the few hundred dollars my friends and I raised in 2015, I wonder how many kids received something special or something as seemingly ordinary as a teddy bear.
“All the kids going to surgery get a teddy bear,” Melissa explains, “That teddy bear gets to go where mommy can’t.”
I start to get teary-eyed.
While Extra Life doesn’t require you to play video games — you can play board games or just play tag — the point of it is to incorporate fun with fundraising.
“For the kids,” reads the hashtag. It appeals to the child in all of us to go out and help save the children who desperately need our help.
For Molly. For Felicity and Seraphina. For Crosby, Caden, and the children in the NICU today.
Do it for them.
You are all invited to join the HyperGeeks as we strive to hit our goals for Extra Life 2016. Feel free to do it on your own or create your own team as well.