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"What do you say we play bingo?"

Being late is not an option for "Bingo Bob." It's 1:50 p.m. on a Tuesday, and volunteer Robert Kirk is on his way to the DHMC production studio. He enters, takes a seat at a long table covered with green felt, and hooks up a microphone. A production assistant says, "Five seconds—stand by." Kirk turns to face the camera, smiles, and says, "Good afternoon, everyone. It's two o'clock and time for hospital bingo."

"Bingo Bob" Kirk, right, has been a faithful volunteer for 18 years.
Photo by Mark Austin-Washburn

Kirk—known as Bingo Bob—has hosted a weekly hour-long bingo session at DHMC for 18 years. The game is televised, so patients all over the Medical Center can play. Bingo cards are delivered on meal trays, and patients who want to play tune their TV to the in-house channel. They follow along as Kirk tumbles a wire basket holding numbered bingo balls.

"If you get bingo," Kirk tells viewers, "give us a ring at 5-4945 and we'll chat. Then at three o'clock we'll come around with a basket of prizes. . . . Now, what do you say we play bingo?"

The numbers come fast and furious. "Check out the neighborhood of N-31," Kirk says. "How does I-18 look to you?" He estimates he's hosted more than 6,500 games of bingo—seven games an hour, 52 weeks a year, for 18 years. It's a hard post to fill; the volunteer has to be highly dependable, have a sense of humor, enjoy meeting patients, and be comfortable in front of a camera. "I've tried to retire several times, but they won't let me," jokes Kirk. But his daughter, Nan Carroll (pictured with him above), fills in if he's sick or out of town.

At the end of this hour, there are 15 winners. DHMC's Pink Smock Gift Shop donates the prizes—such as puzzle books or stuffed animals. Today, a patient in the neuroscience unit is glad to pick some playing cards; she's a big card player and forgot to bring a deck from home. Meeting the patients is one of the joys of the job. "They look you right in the eye," says Kirk, "and say, 'God bless you. You're doing a good thing.'" L.J.W.

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