One Northwestern Memorial Hospital patient swore volunteer Elizabeth Suffredin was Jennifer Aniston.
The man had no visitors, having just had an emergency appendectomy while in town for business. In came Suffredin with a basket full of prizes to reward him for a bingo win. He’d been on several medications and swore she was the “Friends” star.
She went along with it.
“He was heavily drugged and the sun was coming down and I quietly corrected him twice,” Suffredin said. “On the third time I was like, let’s roll with this. I was in character the whole time.”
“ ‘What do you want to know about Brad [Pitt]?’ ” Suffredin asked the man.
Suffredin, 33, a Loyola University Chicago employee, has volunteered with the bingo program at Northwestern Memorial for five years. But “Bedside Bingo” has been held every Monday at the hospital for nearly 20 years.
It’s a distraction and a chance for patients to have a little fun after dinner. If they’re lucky, they get visits from the bingo crew, who come bearing gifts — decks of cards, crossword puzzles and magazines.
In April, Suffredin joined longtime volunteer Amy Bouschart in running the show. Bouschart and her husband have helped with bingo night for 20 years.
It’s not the bingo typified by scenes in senior living facilities. At Northwestern, the show is run in a small conference room with a tiny camera and a microphone. A basket spins the little bingo balls while patients watch the game on their television. Patients also can win by answering trivia questions correctly.
Rush University Medical Center and the University of Chicago Medical Center run similar bingo nights.
“Hello. Welcome to Bedside Bingo!” Bouschart told patients via the camera. After a few test calls to make sure patients can hear and see them, the game begins.
Patients receive four bingo cards on their dinner trays, with instructions to tune in to the TV to play at 7 p.m.
Bouschart and Suffredin have their fair share of touching and humorous stories about running bingo.
Bouschart’s husband, also a longtime volunteer, once got trapped in the psychiatric ward by a staff member who was unclear whether he was a patient. And a man who won a trivia question about figure skater Dorothy Hamill tried to demonstrate his “Hamill camel” to Suffredin while accidentally getting his IV and tubes twisted.
Olla Pruitt, 76, of Little Italy, was a recent bingo winner. She chose crossword puzzles as her prize.
“We don’t want to see you here again,” Suffredin tells Pruitt — about the only time she can nicely say such a thing.
And nearby, a young married couple spent their Monday night answering trivia questions.
“I wanted to tell you this is like a hot date night for us,” Ashley Patrick, 24, said as the team came in to reward her and husband, Jonathan Patrick, for their trivia skills.
“On any Monday night you can walk into one room with 15 family members, and obviously this person is supported, and you go into another and it’s just a person alone and there’s no flowers,” Suffredin said. “It’s rewarding to me because [patients] make me realize, no matter how bad your day is, you can laugh and you can have fun.
“Something as silly as winning bingo can put a big smile on their faces because earlier they had a spinal tap and a really bad day. It’s a constant reminder to me that life is not that bad. These patients are my heroes.”