February 16, 2019
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‘I have no pain at all’: LaGrange man recovering from explosion

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Barbara Robinson listens as Al Highers prepares to end his day shift at Four Corners Variety and Redemption Center in LaGrange on Thursday, Nov. 17. Robinson came in as a volunteer to work a shift at the store so that Joanne Decesere could go visit her husband at a Portland hospital after he suffered severe burns in an accident earlier in the day.

LAGRANGE, Maine — John Decesere can barely bend the fingers of his left hand. His fingers are still so badly blistered that he can’t touch them. His right hand is about 90 percent healed and he can do all the things most people can do — move around, shave, dress himself — without difficulty, he said Wednesday.

“There is no pain. I have no pain at all,” said Decesere, sounding relieved. “I was on Oxycontin, but I took myself off of it a week ago. I was having violent nightmares and hallucinations because of it.”

Home from Portland’s Maine Medical Center since Saturday after being badly burned in an explosion at his Four Corners Variety store on Nov. 17, the 60-year-old Bangor native feels lucky to be alive and very grateful — thankful to the people who helped save his life, to the doctors and nurses who helped him, and to those who have donated hundreds of dollars to help pay his medical expenses, given his lack of health insurance.

“It changes everything — the way you feel about life and how short life is,” Decesere said of his accident.

His sister-in-law Donna Highers said she is amazed at how quickly Decesere is healing, given that he had second-degree burns on his stomach and left arm that required skin grafts, but worried that he might do too much too soon.

“He is getting frustrated,” Highers said. “Like yesterday when we were emptying [groceries from] the truck, he was standing there looking at me. I looked over and said, ‘What the hell do you want?’ He said, ‘Give me a bag,’ so I gave him the one with all the gauze in it.”

“He wants to do things, but he knows he can’t,” she added. “I just feel bad. He is getting very bored.”

Decesere feels pressed. His store, which he co-owns with his wife, Joanne, demands almost all of their time, and is struggling. It’s the only retail store in town. The Deceseres bought it four years ago to try to climb from being workers — he worked for Cap Morrill’s Seafood in Brewer for 15 years — to being owners.

“We spent our savings getting the store open. We wanted to have some more stability in our lives. It hasn’t happened yet, with this economy,” Decesere said.

He expects medical bills of at least $10,000, he said.

That’s why neighbors are holding a bean supper for him at Marion C. Cook School from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Highers said. Admission will cost $6 for adults and $3 for children under age 12. Anyone wishing to donate items, food, money or volunteer for the dinner can call Highers at 943-2053.

Highers has established a bank account at Camden National Bank, care of P.O. Box 188, Milo 04463, but nobody knows exactly how much money has been donated. Besides running the store and caring for her husband, Joanne Decesere has dealt with one mishap after another.

The latest: the alternator in the couple’s Ford F-150 died a few days ago.

“She hasn’t called the bank to see what’s in there yet,” Highers said. “She hasn’t had a vehicle. I am her taxi.”

Still, neither Decesere is complaining. John Decesere praises the hospital’s treatment of him and he said he knows that the accident — which occurred when he tried to burn a stump in the store’s side yard with off-road diesel fuel — was his mistake.

He credits his survival to his quick reactions, passers-by splashing him with coffee and bottled water from the store, and his having been wearing two shirts when the fire snaked into the plastic container.

“If it was gas, the explosion probably would have knocked me down and the burns would have been so severe. When I saw the flames go into the can I knew I was doomed,” Decesere said. “In seconds I was in front of the store and at that point I ripped my shirts off.”

“What I should have done is research. I should have found a better way to remove that stump. There’s chemicals out there that could have done the job,” he added, “and I pray that anybody who does anything like this or faces the least amount of danger involved should research it because there are better ways to do it.”

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