SABATTUS – Bob Morin sat on his bed and gripped the comforter with both hands as a health aide ran the electric razor over the stray hairs on his nose.

His face turned red and his forehead started to sweat as he struggled to hold in his cough.

As soon as the buzzing of the razor stopped, Morin let go of the comforter and started to wheeze.

The health aide, Steve Rogers, placed his hand on Morin’s shoulder.

“Let it out. Let it out,” Rogers told Morin between the deep, crackling outbursts. “It’s better out than in.”

Morin waited to catch his breath before getting his inhaler and breathing in another dose of morphine.

“I like better not to take the treatment,” the 75-year-old said later that day. “They say it’s habit-forming, and I don’t want that. But you get to the point where you don’t have a choice.”

Morin started taking regular doses of morphine about a year ago.

That was when his doctor told him that she could do nothing more for his weak heart and failing lungs, and he was given three choices: continue with his regular routine of rushing to the emergency room whenever he couldn’t tolerate the pain, move to a nursing home or start receiving hospice care.

Regular visits

Morin and his wife, Jackie, didn’t have to discuss the option of a nursing home.

“We’ve been living together 55 years,” Jackie Morin said. “I wasn’t going to put him in a home if I could still help take care of him.

“In a nursing home,” she continued, “you just can’t do the things you are used to.”

Once a stocky man with strong arms and a big belly, Bob Morin cannot go far without his walker and he cannot breathe without his portable oxygen tank. He spends most days in his drawstring pajamas since his other pants are now too big.

After a major heart attack in 1985 and several minor ones since then, his heart is no longer strong enough to pump blood through his body.

As a result, his lungs fill up with fluid, making it hard for him breathe and giving him tight, sharp pains in his back and chest.

A year ago, he became too weak to drive his car or to go to church on Sundays.

But he still had days when he felt strong enough to cook dinner for his wife or to drive with her to the grocery store.

Knowing this, Morin’s doctor recommended Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice.

The doctor explained to the couple that Morin could stay home and get regular visits from a health aide, a nurse and a chaplain. She explained that most of his medication would be covered and he would get a hospital bed, a walker and whatever other equipment he needed to be safe and comfortable.

She told them that a team of people would work together to monitor Morin’s health, to make sure that his chest hurt as little as possible and to do whatever they could to help him and his family deal with his illness and, eventually, his death.

Not for everybody

The doctor also told the Morins that hospice isn’t for everyone.

If he chose this option, she explained, Medicare would not cover any life-saving procedures. Heart surgery or a lung transplant would be out of the question while he was receiving care.

It is for people in the final stages of their lives, the doctor said, people who have been given six months or less to live.

It had been nearly 20 years since emergency room doctors brought Morin back to life after his first heart attack. Both he and his wife knew that Morin would never survive another open-heart surgery or some other complicated procedure.

They were ready to accept that his years of smoking and working in the weaving room at the Bates Mill had finally caught up to him.

When Morin found out that the hospice workers might even let him go fishing on a nice day or take a trip to Foxwoods Casino, his decision was made.

“I thought to myself, I can stay home, cook, maybe even go to Foxwoods. Why not?’ So I went for it,” he said.

Hot dog boats

A year and one month later, Morin’s heart and lungs continue their gradual decline. His back aches and his legs swell from the fluid build-up.

“They get red like fire,” Morin said, rubbing his thighs.

Although he has outlived his original prognosis of six months, he is able to remain on hospice because he has shown no signs of improvement.

The visits from his health aide have increased from three a week to daily. He has started napping every afternoon, and he rarely goes a day without at least six morphine treatments.

In addition to relieving the pain, morphine works to slow down and deepen Morin’s respiratory rate.

As a result, he is able to get out of bed most mornings. He went fishing last summer and he has been to Foxwoods twice.

“I know Bob is going to go someday. But we don’t just sit around and think about his death,” said Jackie Morin. “Right now, we’re looking forward to the nice weather. The kids are looking forward to bringing him fishing again. We’re not just going to sit here and vegetate. No way.”

Every couple of weeks, Morin surprises his wife by offering to make dinner. His favorite dish is hot dog boats – baked franks stuffed with mustard, cheese and mashed potatoes.

Morin has offered to make hot dog boats for every hospice worker who has visited.

Family now’

Rogers, the aide who comes most weekdays, is a former postal carrier who became a certified nursing assistant and got a job at Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice after his wife died of cancer.

Morin’s nurse, Karen Flynn, went to work for hospice five years ago after working as a nurse for more than two decades. She describes her job as a “haven for old-style nurses.”

Trained volunteers are also available to run errands, do chores or simply keep the Morins company. But the couple declined that part of the service because they have six children who all live close by.

As he does with his kids, Morin rarely lets the hospice workers leave without getting up slowly from his chair at the dining room table to give them a hug.

“I got attached to them,” he said, his French accent still thick. “They are all family now.”

Leaving the city

Nearly five decades ago, Morin and his wife were reluctant to move from their apartment in downtown Lewiston to the four-bedroom house in Sabattus.

Morin liked being able to walk to his full-time job at the Bates Mill, then to his side job mopping floors and washing windows at Marois Restaurant. His wife liked being close to Lisbon Street and Saints Peter and Paul Church.

She worried that the people in Sabattus wouldn’t be nice to them because they were French Canadian.

But the house in the country offered other things.

At $6,750, it was the right price. And, as Jackie’s father was quick to point out, it had a big hill in the back yard that would be great for sledding.

“This is a good house,” William Ayotte told his daughter and son-in-law. “It is going to be the perfect place to raise your kids.”

So, in December 1955, the Morins and their four kids packed up their apartment at 174 Ash St. and moved to Lake Street in Sabattus.

Acceptance

A few years and two more children later, Morin was temporarily laid off from his job at the Bates Mill.

When the man who ran the local convenience store learned about the situation, he told Morin that he could clean and paint the store in exchange for groceries. The man who ran the local heating business offered to give him advances on oil.

“Then I had my good friend the milkman,” Morin recalled, sitting at his dining-room table surrounded by framed photographs of his six children, 13 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

“He told me, Don’t worry about it. Don’t you worry about it.’ And he brought us all of the milk, eggs and cheese that we needed.”

Morin graciously accepted the offers. But it wasn’t easy.

He hadn’t been without work since he dropped out of school at age 12 and got a job packing cases of ginger ale.

At the time of his unemployment, Morin’s wife told him, “In life, you have to accept things as they are.”

Morin remembered that advice a year ago when he was so nervous that he couldn’t stop shaking while waiting for Rogers to come and wash him for the first time.

He remembers it Sunday mornings when he turns on the television to watch a taped church service, and he remembers it every time the pains in his chest get so bad that he can do nothing but reach for his inhaler.

Next: The Sun Journal takes a look at the role of a vital member of the hospice team: the registered nurse. Bob Morin’s nurse, Karen Flynn, says, “You can’t be a good hospice worker unless you fall in love with your patients. You fall in love knowing you are going to have to say goodbye.”


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