Friendship finds a way: southwest hospice volunteer, patient share life, laughter


Hospice volunteers usually expect to lose patients within six months. Betsy Burnett, a veteran volunteer, was used to this.

Her current patient, Elizabeth "Betty" Twohey, who is 104, did not follow the trend. She has been in hospice care for five years.

The extra time has afforded them a friendship stronger than any Burnett has had with a patient.

"I've learned a lot from other patients, too," Burnett said. "But since I've been with her the longest, I've learned the most from her."

Twohey expects to be bedridden for the rest of her life. She lives in a hospice near Rainbow Boulevard and Alta Drive. The house is part of Solari Hospice Care, 5550 S. Jones Blvd.

A picture frame in her room holds the photos of the 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt, and the 44th president, Barack Obama, side by side. She has lived through both administrations.

Twohey has Parkinson's disease, and her health is in decline. Then again, she has had six months to live nearly a dozen times.

Burnett, a Spring Valley resident, usually visits Twohey for a couple of hours on Saturdays.

"We kind of vent to each other," Burnett said. "I feel bad sometimes about it. But she knows all the things going on with my kids and everything. She talks about her kids and all the experiences they had back in the day."

Other than visits from Twohey's three remaining children, Burnett is the highlight of her week.

"We have fun," Twohey said, struggling to speak because she has to pause for breath between her words.

Once their weekly chitchat is over, they get down to more pressing business. Burnett reads romance novels to Twohey.

"She's always able to tell me what chapter we're on," Burnett said. "She remembers the page number and what the characters were doing in the book. She's very sharp.

"It can get kind of juicy sometimes, and she likes that. When I first started reading to her, I would get kind of red in the face when it got to those parts. I would try to skip over them, but she knew when I was doing that, and she would say, 'I want to hear that.' "

Making it a little more awkward for Burnett is the fact that she has to read loudly so that Twohey can hear. Other members in the house can hear, too.

"She wiggles on the chair when she comes to the sexy parts," Twohey said.

Time has since removed any shyness that once existed.

"Now I'm comfortable," Burnett said.

Burnett has had many relationships with hospice patients. Like them, she knows about loss, too. Her husband died in a car accident four years ago.

Burnett moved from New Mexico with her three children to be near her parents.

She said she looks forward to the weekend visits just as much as those she helps. She plans to continue volunteering after Twohey dies, which doctors say is likely in the next six months.

"I enjoy learning about their families and life experiences they've had throughout the years," Burnett said. "It makes me feel good to just make the days easier for my patient and take their mind off of whatever health issues they're dealing with and let them forget about that for a while.

"If I can make someone's life better and easier, I feel like I've done my job."

For more information about volunteering for Solari Hospice Care, call volunteer coordinator Shari Diebold at 870-0000 or visit solarihospice.com.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

 

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