Originally created 08/31/97

Victim gets new chance

After lying in bed for two years waiting to die, Betty Munn began to feel a strange sensation in her legs that made her a little dizzy.

The muscles strained and the bones settled under a pressure she hadn't felt in all that time. She was walking again.

Ever since she was diagnosed with inoperable colon cancer and admitted to St. Joseph Hospital's hospice program, she has been preparing for the end. She was given six months, then six more months. Her husband, Bill, discovered the diaries she kept during their romance in college in the 1930s, and each day they would relive their courtship 60 years ago, sharing thoughts he never knew.

When The Augusta Chronicle visited her earlier this year, she was resigned to her fate, turning aside jokes that she might outlive her husband and daughter.

"I've lived more than my time already," she said, over the tender protests of her daughter, Kathy Resseguie, who sat nearby. "There isn't anything I can do so I just don't do anything."

Day after day, she didn't change, the cancer couldn't kill her. Finally this summer, she was taken back to St. Joseph for an exam and a magnetic resonance imaging scan. The disease that had been hanging over her for so long was in remission. Reluctantly, the hospice program had to release her.

"She should have died years ago and didn't and just stayed so stable," said Dr. Russell Moores, medical director of the hospice program. "You just occasionally see folks do this. It's just very surprising she has lived as long as she has."

Ever the realist, Betty wasn't sure what to say about it at first.

"I really don't know what it means so I'm not out dancing in the streets," she said. "It's a mystery."

Not to Bill. He beams at her as she sits next to him in her wheelchair with trim white tennis shoes on her feet.

"Love conquers all," he said as she gives him a bemused look. "You've been showered with love, not just from me but from everybody."

Being released from the hospice meant Betty could begin physical and occupational therapy with a branch of Walton Rehabilitation Hospital at Brandon Wilde nursing home.

"When we first started, she couldn't even sit up on the edge of the bed," said Clarice Marty, the physical therapy assistant.

Then one afternoon, Bill got a call from the physical therapy unit.

"They said, `We have something to show you.' So I went down there, and there's Betty walking with a walker. All the nurses applauded," he said.

Now she can get up and wheel herself in for lunch and has even made it down the long halls to the formal dining room.

"One of her goals was to go to the main dining room and have dinner with you," occupational therapist Becky Bonin tells Bill.

"She was an exceptional patient," Ms. Marty adds. "She'll be a good motivator, especially for people who have given up."

She has never given up, even as she reflected on all the things she had lost to the disease. The memory of their younger days still hangs in the air around them as they sit next to each other, fingers tightly intertwined. The diaries revealed a host of suitors Bill never knew were "trying to beat my time," and he still teases Betty about it.

"Name some names," he said.

She gives him that look again.

"I don't think I should name names because they're married now," she said.

"They're probably all gone now, you can name names," he said. She recounts one night when one paramour dropped her off just in time for Bill to pull up and take her on a date.

"I still think it's terrible, two dates in one night," she said seriously.

Being able to move around more on her own means she and Bill now have some serious things to discuss.

"Do you want to come and live with me in the apartment?" he asks tenderly. "You wouldn't have to cook much."

They have lived apart ever since she has been in the hospice, she in a room with full-time nursing care, he in an apartment in another part of the complex. She can join him if she can get to the point that she can get herself up and use the bathroom.

She is cautious in her answer, looking down at her lap.

"Under the circumstances," she said slowly, hesitating. "I would like to."

After waiting for death for so long, Betty still finds it a little difficult to talk about plans for the future. Friday was not a good day, she said.

"I woke up today and thought, `I wish I could just go and get it over with,"' she said.

"That's the way you used to think," Bill gently reminds her, still gripping her hand in his.

She smiles and nods.

"My whole mind-set was in that direction and I accepted it," she said. "Suddenly it's taken a direct turnaround."

After facing a certain death for so long, she seems a little confused by its absence. She is left not knowing how long she has left.

Then again, who does?


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