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Part 1: Our Emergency Trip to Hawaii & Why We Won’t Fly Delta Again

november 11, 2018

Randy and I have talked about going to Hawaii for years – it’s always been some sort of ‘dream vacation’ to go there: the sunsets, the surfing, the volcanos, the lush green mountains, and experiencing the Aloha Spirit. It’s something we planned on doing in the next few years, always putting off going to visit Randy’s older brother Ricky, who has lived in Hawaii for several years off and on during his time in the Navy the last nearly 21 years.

We never thought our first trip to Oahu would be an emergency trip and full of so much pain, fear and anguish.

I’ll go ahead and apologize in advance, this story is gonna be long. There’s gonna be some triggers for our readers – so, just a heads’s up. Also, these photos are all 100% off my personal Instagram, because we didn’t take any of our gear with us. It wasn’t that kind of trip. And honestly, my brain is fried a little bit and I can’t get AirDrop to work to send more photos over without doing it individually. Pick your battles, right?

Anyway, here we go.

At about 5:30 in the morning on Black Friday, Randy sat down next to me on my side of the bed and I thought he was kissing me goodbye since he had to be at his day job early that morning. Instead, he said, “Babe, something is wrong with Ricky and he’s in the hospital.”

Let me back up and tell you about Ricky. Ricky is six and a half feet tall and a submariner for the Navy, he’s six years older than Randy, and he was Randy’s best friend from birth. Ricky taught Randy how to drive, Ricky always included Randy despite their age differences, Randy freaking idolizes his big brother. They act a lot more like best friends than brothers, a lot like how our sons Daniel and Noah are together. Ricky was our biggest supporter when Randy and I got together at 18, had a baby and decided to get married because Ricky is just … f***ing awesome, as he puts it. But, because of life and Ricky’s military commitments and being so far apart, we actually haven’t seen Ricky in person since Randy’s mom died, back in 2011.

On Thanksgiving, Ricky wasn’t feeling good – he thought he had the flu. Had a bad headache, was nauseas, etc. – he had just returned from a short trip out to sea a few days before and was prepping to leave again in a few weeks for deployment. Being the man that he is, he went through the motions of Thanksgiving even though he wasn’t feeling great. When Lynette decided to head out for early Black Friday shopping, she took their three kids and not too long after she left, Ricky called her but couldn’t speak. Lynette rushed home to find Ricky standing in their front yard, still not able to talk or communicate. Then, when she was getting him in the car to take him to the hospital he had his first seizure. She called 911, and on the way to the hospital, he had another seizure.

At the civilian emergency room, the doctors told Lynette they suspected he had a brain aneurism, and it wasn’t looking good … and to call the family.

When Randy woke up, his phone was blown up with missed calls, text messages, and Facebook messages. He had a voicemail from his older sister Cindy, and our local Sheriff’s department. It had been four hours since they’d started trying to get in touch with us. We sleep with our phones on silent, and we have all social media notifications turned off all the time – so we had absolutely no idea until Randy got up to go to work that anything was wrong.

By the time we talked with Lynette (Ricky’s wife) at 5:30 in the morning, Ricky had been transported to the military hospital on Oahu and was in the MRI so we could figure out exactly what the hell was going on.

Randy had to leave for work, so I manned the phones. I paced, I cleaned, I cried and I waited. I told Lynette to tell me what was going on, so Randy wasn’t bombarded at work with news and updates, and because I knew if it was bad news, it needed to come from me.

By 9 in the morning, we got the news. It wasn’t an aneurism, it was a lemon sized tumor in his brain. And Ricky was heading into emergency neurosurgery that was expected to last about 6 hours.

I immediately bought the tickets to Hawaii to leave a few hours later, and told Randy to come home, now. I packed our bags. I made arrangements for the kids and the dogs. I made arrangements for our VA to take over our email for the next few days. I made a list of things to do and checked them off, one by one. I called my mom and my best friend Stephanie, and I sobbed. How do I tell Randy his older brother has a brain tumor?

 

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Randy got home about half hour later and you guys, I can’t even describe the feelings. It’s been a couple of weeks and I still feel sick from having to tell Randy about what was going on. Randy went into a state of shock, not really talking, moving mechanically, and his eyes were just … far away. He’s been like this since I first told him, and it really hasn’t gotten much better yet.

Our flight was from Denver to LAX and then to Honolulu, and by the time we landed in Los Angeles, Ricky was out of surgery and stable.

 

 

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I don’t even really remember the flight from LAX to Honolulu. I don’t think I slept, I think I watched movies I had downloaded on my phone from Netflix. I don’t think there was turbulence. I remember we got upgraded to business class and had the most comfortable plane seats we’ve ever had, we got strawberry ice cream and a bowl of hot nuts and a warm, moist towel. Despite being several hours long, I don’t really remember the flight though, which is weird because I hate flying and usually can remember every minute stuck on an airplane.

As soon as we landed in Honolulu, we went straight to Tripler and nothing in the world could have prepared us for what we walked into when we got into the ICU. Randy’s huge brother, curled up on a bed that didn’t really fit him because he’s so tall, on a ventilator and unable to breathe on his own, strapped down at the wrists because he kept trying to rip out the ventilator, and his head wrapped in a turban of gauze. My heart stopped when I saw him there, and I don’t know how Randy felt but his grip on my hand got a little tighter. Immediately, we’re hugging Lynette and within seconds it seems like, the resident came in to talk to us.

At this point, we weren’t sure what brain damage he had, if any, from the tumor and surgery. We weren’t sure if he’d be able to talk again, walk again or see again – especially on of his right side. I wasn’t even sure he’d make it out of the hospital, if I’m being honest. We finally got to our hotel room about 1 in the morning Hawaii time, which meant we’d been awake for nearly 24 hours at that point.

 

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The next day, Ricky was able to come out of sedation and by midday had his ventilator out and was breathing on his own. When we walked into his hospital room that morning, he made eye contact with Randy and his eyes got real big. Randy said, “hey dude! Your favorite brother is here to see you! You happy to see me??” and Ricky shook his head no – which honestly got a big laugh out of everyone in the room. And by everyone – I mean everyone. It was such a Ricky response and it totally made my heart so happy to see some of his spirit coming back.

Ricky’s hospital room was a revolving door of visitors – his shipmates on the sub, several in his command, everyone was bringing food and well wishes and talking about how much they love Ricky. These big Navy guys, with tears in their eyes, just kept coming in; I want to say at least a dozen different people came in during his stay in the hospital. Ricky’s shipmates were taking care of their three kids too – bringing them food and checking in on them. In all our years of Randy being in the Air Force, we never saw that kind of brotherhood, ever. Even when Randy was deployed to Afghanistan and Daniel ended up in ICU with a MRSA infection and I was 6 months pregnant with 2 other babies at home while living in Japan, we never saw that kind of genuine brotherhood or care for the family’s well being (with the exception of a couple leaders in Randy’s squadron – and guess what, one of those guys is Hawaiian! Absolutely not surprising after we saw how it was in Hawaii!). I must have told Randy 65 times that he had joined the wrong branch, if this was how the Navy took care of their people, and Randy wholeheartedly agrees. It was incredible to see what kind of support system they have in place.

 

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After Ricky got off the ventilator, Randy and I left to go pick up their dad from the airport, who had jumped on an airplane to get out to Hawaii all the way from Florida. We spent the afternoon together in Ricky’s hospital room, talking and holding hands and I watched his monitors. I stood by the window and stared out at Waikiki Beach and wondered why something like this was happening to such an awesome man. On more than one occasion, I got angry about how unfair this whole thing is. I am still struggling with anger and disbelief that this is even real life.

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At one point, I pulled one of the ICU nurses aside and asked how Ricky was really doing. Don’t sugarcoat it, just be honest with me. I’m not someone who is an optimist, I’m a hardcore realist and more often than not, a pessimist. I didn’t want to hear the “we hopes” and the “maybes” – I needed to know what the truth was. And that’s when the nurse looked very grave, looked me right in the eye and in the most kind and empathetic way said that it’s not good, and that most patients with brain cancer only live a few months, maybe a year or two. And that our family was in for a rough time.

That was the first time I had heard anyone refer to what Ricky has as the c-word.

We left the hospital shortly thereafter and we went to the most touristy restaurant we could find in Waikiki that was walking distance to our hotel, and I drank an entire pineapple of rum. I’m not a big drinker – I usually can’t even finish a whole beer most of the time, but that night? Pass. Me. The. Pineapple.

 

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The next morning, I got Randy up and out of the hotel in the dark and we drove to Makapu’u Beach on the east side of the island, to watch the sunrise. We both needed some fresh air, and time outdoors to breathe. Randy sat there on the volcanic rocks, and watched the sun rise and listened to the waves crashing and I couldn’t sit still. I climbed the rocks, got sprayed with the waves, and was endlessly amused by the wild chickens all over the place that were dead ringers of Hei Hei from Moana.

 

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We decided to take Ricky and Lynette’s kids out for the day for a bit, to get out of the house and get their minds off things. Truth be told, I couldn’t sit another minute in that hospital room, with the beeping and the quiet whispers and the seriousness and the sympathetic smiles of nurses and doctors who knew what we were in for. It made me feel nauseas and helpless, and I needed to breathe. Being around Naomi, Kalicia and RJ (our nieces and nephew) was the most amazing thing – eating some of the most delicious French toast I’ve ever had in my life, eating our first Hawaiian shaved ice, going to the Honolulu Zoo, listening to them laugh and play and talking to them was honestly the best day part of our entire trip; they lifted my spirits in a way that I can’t even describe.

 

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Afterward, we took them home and headed up to the North Shore. And we watched the sunset, with wildly crazy surfers out there in 30 foot swells and we sat there in silence.

Breathe in, breathe out. Wave in, wave out.

 

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The next morning, Randy’s command took us all out for a ride on Ricky’s sub as a morale booster – the kids, us and Randy’s dad. We cruised through Pearl Harbor, and right as we were passing the USS Arizona Memorial, the Star Spangled Banner played over the loudspeakers and I kid you not, you guys – it was the most patriotic moment of my entire life. Standing on the sail of a submarine, surrounded by Pearl Harbor, cruising by the Arizona … it was easily one of the most incredible experiences of our life.

 

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We spent the rest of the day in the hospital, where Ricky was moved from ICU up to a regular room. And even more people came flooding in to check in on Ricky and Lynette. The difference between us seeing him on Friday in the ICU and him being in the regular room on Monday was incredible – he was able to talk (albeit slowly), walk (again slowly) … I was so grateful to see such a big improvement in such a short amount of time. It was nice to see Randy smile again, even if the smile didn’t reach his eyes.

That afternoon after we left Tripler, we took a hike around Diamondhead to watch our last sunset in Oahu and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

 

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And then, before we knew it, our time in Hawaii was over. We spent the morning with Ricky in the hospital, where he was actually able to get discharged right before we had to head to the airport to catch our flight back to Denver. We got to see him go home, waiting for his official biopsy results – which we just got a few days ago. It is Stage 4 Glioblastoma. Don’t Google it – I made that mistake, and let’s suffice to say it’s devastating news for our family.

While his prognosis isn’t good, Ricky’s spirit is incredibly strong and he might be the most stubborn and strong man I’ve ever met in my life. And he has the most incredible wife and three kids standing by his side to fight this battle.

Lynette’s best friend put together a GoFundMe to help Ricky’s family. If you’d like more information on that, you can see it here. They’re also posting updates on there, if you’d like to read that.

We would be remiss not to send an incredible thank you to our tribe of friends and family, who pitched in to help us get to Hawaii and not have to worry about the kids, everyone who texted, called, DM’d, added Ricky to prayer chains, or sent well wishes to us. It’s truly meant the absolute world to me and to Randy to have such an incredible tribe of people supporting us right now.

So, now you know where our hearts and minds were when we got on our flight home … which is a whole other blog. That blog will come in a few days, I have to get my thoughts together about it to share because it was one of the most traumatic things we’ve ever endured.

To be continued …

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