Part 2: Our Emergency Trip to Hawaii & Why We Won’t Fly Delta Again
Earlier this week, I share the first part of our story. Today, I’m sharing the second part. Just like with the other blog, this one will have some triggers for some people about flying and death.
I have exactly one photo to share from this, and this is it. I took this in Honolulu at our terminal, most of the plane was already loaded because we were in the last boarding group to get on our flight to Atlanta (yeah, Delta was flying us all the way from Honolulu to Atlanta and then back to Denver, still don’t get how that makes sense but whatever). We were stuck in the middle of the plane, it was three rows, middle three rows, then another three rows – so there were two aisles.
We got into the plane, and took our seats. I wasn’t too thrilled about being right in the middle of the plane, but, I planned to take a Benadryl after dinner to conk out and hopefully wake up in Atlanta. I had a really lovely seatmate next to me, a woman named Marissa who was traveling back home from Hawaii; she works for Sephora and was there for work. I couldn’t help but think how amazing her job must be – she was really quite nice, too. After the plane took off, I angled my neck to try and see out ANY window to catch the Hawaiian sunset from the air, but of course … so was everyone else and all of the windows were blocked.
I put my headphones in, and started to watch a movie – How Sarah Got Her Wings, something I had downloaded from Netflix. I love the main actor in that movie, he was on that show Baby Daddy (and if you haven’t watched that, you should, it’s funny). Anyway, Randy starts to watch The Meg and I keep eyeballing it – I want to watch it, but I can’t handle watching scary or suspenseful movies with my anxiety disorder, so I need him to watch it first to make sure it’s okay for me to watch. We get the menus from the flight attendants for dinner, and we are going through the motions of being passengers stuck on a red eye flight, about to order dinner, and we’re waiting to get the first round of beverages to be served and all I can think about is wanting a club soda to help settle my stomach because I’d been nauseas and feeling unwell since we got the first news of Randy’s brother.
We are about an hour and some change into our flight, and that’s when I took another peek over at Randy’s screen to see what was going on in his movie and I noticed that the flight attendants were escorting an elderly woman back to her seat. This woman did not look good – she looked out of breath, kind of pale and weak. They sat her down in her seat two rows ahead of where Randy was seated, and then out of nowhere she collapses into the aisle. Randy is craning his head into the aisle to see what’s going on, and I reach over as he’s handing me his headphones and the stuff on his tray so he can get up to help. He’s instantly cradling this woman’s head, and the flight attendants start running all over the place.
Thinking back, I can’t see anything other than Randy. Everything else is blurry, but it’s moving fast around me. Marissa, my seat mate, grabs my hand and we are watching this woman die in my husband’s arms.
Overhead, I can hear them calling for anyone who is a doctor or nurse to come help. Within a few seconds, five people are there assisting – a NICU nurse named Angela and her husband, an ENT surgeon named AJ, and someone else whose name and job I didn’t catch but I’m assuming she was a nurse, and someone who was in the Army.
None of the flight attendants know CPR (or if they did, not one of them jumped in to help). So Randy and the four other people start doing CPR, Randy is bagging the woman and everyone else is trying to revive her. The ENT surgeon is pouring sweat, doing chest compressions. The NICU nurse has a knowing look on her face, but a determination in her eyes not to quit. The flight attendants have absolutely no clue how to work their AED machine, and it took them a few minutes to even bring one up to the first response passenger team. They cut off the woman’s top, and she’s naked and fully exposed from the waist up in front an entire cabin of lookyloos, including several young children. The doc and two nurses and Randy hook the AED machine up to the woman’s chest, and try to shock her.
Clear, shock, body jump, check the pulse. Nothing. She’s asystolic – I hear the ENT calmly but strongly say. Continue CPR.
Delta’s blood pressure cuff isn’t working, they are relying entirely on the stethoscope in the medical bag.
15 minutes goes by. I’m watching the clock for the surgeon. He starts asking the flight attendants if the woman’s family is on the plane (they’re not, she’s traveling alone), and if they’ve been notified. He must have asked at least 25 times for the flight attendants to do that one job – get this woman’s family notified. One of the flight attendants is standing behind Randy, peering over, with what looks like the world’s oldest cell phone, talking to the Captains. I can hear her updating them in hushed tones.
A few seconds later, overhead we hear that the plane is returning to Honolulu due to a medical emergency. If anyone has any medical training and knows CPR, we could use your help. I feel the plane banking, and hear the engines roar. I check the monitor on the back of the seat and it says we have one hour and eight minutes left of our flight.
The plane is entirely silent except for the roar of the engines burning all their fuel to get back to Honolulu and the sounds of whoever is giving CPR – heavy breathing from the person doing chest compressions, the counting of the team to keep a beat.
The Doc wants her to get oxygen. The flight attendants don’t know how to get oxygen flowing from the overhead compartments, and out of nowhere a green oxygen tank shows up. I’m honestly not sure if it was the woman’s, another passenger’s or one from the plane’s gear. They are missing the “Christmas tree” connector between the bottle of oxygen and the tubing to try and get oxygen into this woman’s lungs. Randy starts to MacGuyver the tubing onto the oxygen tank and I remember being pissed he didn’t have his pocket knife on him that he carries almost all the time, because they can’t find the scissors that they had used to cut the woman’s top off. I stop watching Randy and look down as they try to shock the woman again.
We all know this woman is dead. She’s starting to get broken blood vessels and bruising on her chest from the CPR. Her arms and legs are so still.
The face mask doesn’t fit her – it’s too big. They have exactly four face masks in the on board medical bag – three of the same sized large adult ones and a child’s one. That’s it. They switch out from the large one to the child’s one because the large one doesn’t fit her face and they aren’t getting oxygen into her.
The flight attendants don’t know what medicines are in the medicine bag. I’m yelling “does anyone have an Epi pen?!” and Marissa is running around the plane trying to find someone with an Epi pen and finally one of the flight attendants gets one from another passenger. They didn’t realize there was epinephrine in their medical bag, which no one finds for a little while. Randy eventually found it in the bag, though.
Suddenly, a couple more passengers show up who look like they’re ex-military and a line forms to start doing CPR. Then the line swells to maybe 8 men and women, each taking their turn doing chest compressions on a dead woman. Everyone is sweating.
Randy is switching off with another passenger between holding the face mask over her nose and mouth, and squeezing the air bag. Randy is controlling the AED machine.
I look up and see that the flight attendants are smiling like robots, offering glasses of water to everyone except the team working on this woman. Suddenly, I’m furious. Like – all I see is red kind of furious and I ask the flight attendant to give me and Marissa the water so we can give it to the first response passenger team when they are on break from trying to resuscitate the woman.
The other nurse whose named I didn’t catch has been trying to get an IV in her. There’s no tourniquet in the medical bag, so I rip off the string to my hoodie. Another passenger is holding the IV up, with his wife and little baby in the seat next to him looking absolutely horrified. I mouth “are you ok?” to the young mom and she nods yes. I know she’s not okay, no one is. One of the newer helpers starts handing me medication, I hear someone say “no, that’s for blood sugar” and then Randy found the epinephrine. The nurse has the IV line started.
It’s a blur. I’m honestly not sure if I’m getting this all in the right order of events. Everything comes back to me right now as I’m typing like a flashback – I can see the glistening top of the medicine bottles. I can hear someone yelling CLEAR. I can hear Randy breathing. I can feel Marissa’s hands in mine. I can see the robotic and eery smiles on the flight attendants faces. I can hear the plane roaring. I can feel the engines working hard.
It’s been almost 60 minutes since this woman collapsed and CPR is still going on. I look down at her body, and see that the bruising is getting bigger and her stomach is starting to distend.
And that’s when I realized she was bleeding out of her face. To me, it looked like it was coming out of her nose, mouth and her eyes but Randy later told me the blood had just run to her eye sockets from her nose. I look at the doctor’s face, and he realizes there’s really no saving this woman. You can read it in plain English across his face. He takes a deep breath and doubles his efforts. The NICU nurse looks like she’s on the verge of tears or throwing up, but she’s working and those feelings will have to wait until later. We finally get some gloves for the first response passenger team, and Randy says, “it’s too late for that.” I realize he’s covered in little splatters of her blood. I see the white flecks all over Angela’s white shirt sleeves. I see it on AJ’s arms, too.
Randy’s face is pure determination. He’s in what we call the “nothing box” – where he’s in the zone, thinking about nothing other than what he’s doing.
The line of volunteers doing CPR keeps rotating the same half dozen people or so. Out of plane with over 200 passengers, less than 10 know how to do CPR. I’m ashamed I don’t know CPR and don’t feel qualified to do anything other than hold IVs and pass out medicine as the team calls out for it and get water for them. I’m not medically trained whatsoever, I just have accident prone kids and am accident prone myself and let’s be honest, I’ve seen every episode of House, MD. That’s it. I asked the doc what the hell happened and he says she had a pulmonary embolism, and her lungs have basically exploded inside her chest.
One of the flight attendants walks up to us, and asks us to get ready for landing. We are starting to descend back into Honolulu. They ask for blankets to lay down on the row of seats in front of me, and they want the crew who has been working on a dead woman to lift her naked body up and put her on the row of seats so she can be buckled for landing. They demand everyone take their seats because it’s unsafe to land as they are.
Randy looks the guy dead in the eye and with the most angry, incredulous tone says, “we’ll take the risk.”
I realize at this point that the flight attendants haven’t even tried to move the handful of children out of our cabin as not to traumatize them further. We decide to use the blankets they wanted us to use as sheets on the row to hold them up, and shield everyone from staring – especially the curious kids who are literally standing on their seats to see what’s going on.
The CPR volunteers get in their seats. We are landing right now. Randy is wedged and laying flat in between two rows of seats, under the legs of the woman holding her little baby, and he’s still squeezing the air bag. She’s looking out the window, watching for land so we can brace for landing. The NICU nurse is sitting in the seat next to me, on top of the oxygen tank and we can’t get her seat belt and we can’t move the oxygen tank because Randy had MacGuyvered it and we didn’t want to move it. I tell her “hold on, I’m gonna bear hug you!” and I wrap my arms around her arms and chest and hold on to her with a strength I didn’t know I possessed as we land on the ground. Luckily, it’s a smooth landing and we don’t bounce, like our flights always seem to.
Within seconds, EMTs are on the plane and are trying to get the woman’s body off the plane. And we are told the Captain wants to speak with us, so the group of about a dozen of us who had been working on this woman gets off the plane … to a group of Hawaiian Sheriff’s who want to do a homicide investigation.
You guys, I can’t make this shit up. Everyone has to fill out a report and my husband gets up to go wash the woman’s blood off of him, and he sees the EMTs struggling to get her on the gurney and has to help them. I’m in the bathroom, washing my hands and hugging the nurse and Angela and another passenger who had jumped up to do CPR. We are in a complete state of disbelief – did that really just happen?
I come out, and everyone is filling out the forms. I don’t fill one out because Randy is, and I never touched the woman. I sat and held a cute little baby named Lakin while her mom and dad filled out the forms, because they were some of the CPR volunteers. The police officers stood around and didn’t say much, except one did thank us for trying to save her.
Not one single person from the flight crew or Delta came to speak with any of our group of people, even after the reports were filled out. Even though we were told the Captain wanted to speak with our group, they never showed up. We were all sitting together, so it’s not like Randy and I just missed the crew. They literally high tailed it out of there without saying a word to one person.
About an hour later, as we are sitting in the terminal we finally get some complimentary water bottles and a little red card to call so we can get rebooked on another flight home.
I try to call it, while my husband sits there in shock, and the call keeps dropping so I grab all our stuff, and head up to the front desk of our airline to have them rebook us in person. The next flight is the next day and I basically told them I’m not flying on their airline, they can rebook us on another airline sooner than that. We catch a United flight taking off a couple hours later, and of course we didn’t get our meal on the first flight and by the time we go BACK through security, everywhere in the airport is closed for the night and at this point we haven’t eaten in 12 hours. We ran Home-Alone-style through the Honolulu airport and missed last call by just a couple of minutes for every restaurant in there. I finally found a little stand with chips and candy bars and beef jerky and waters for sale, which we downed before we even got on the airplane.
We get on the flight and I pass out, sound asleep. Just – absolutely out, right after take off. I wake up a few hours later to us hitting a nasty weather front and our plane is rocking and rolling with turbulence, I feel like we are on a cruise ship in the middle of a hurricane.
So to add to the terrible experience as it was – I get airsick. Violently. For half an hour my face is buried inside a little blue lunch sack, and since we haven’t eaten much beside the snacks, I’m just dry heaving. Over and over and over.
We finally land in San Francisco and the Delta had called me while we were in the air, with a super generic “we are sorry for the disruption of our flight” voicemail from someone I can hardly understand. I don’t even bother calling them until we land in Denver – and truth be told, I don’t remember that flight at all.
Once we’re back in the car, I called Delta back and listened to them apologize again for the “disruption of your flight” speech. And I went off on the guy – like … I don’t often get irate on the phone, but all of my sleep exhaustion and emotions just went off. I told the guy what we had been through and he just says, “wow, that sounds terrible” or something like that.
Then he offers us a $100 voucher to recoup the cost of having to pay a second round of baggage fees on the rebooked flight.
That’s it. Nothing else. No apologies, no thank you for risking your life to help another passenger, no nothing.
The flight was just over a week ago and honestly guys, I can’t remember most of what happened since then. It’s been a complete and utter blur of flashbacks, crying, anger, and … I don’t even know. I tried to stay out of our inbox until this past weekend, because I knew if I said or wrote much of anything I probably wouldn’t remember it later on when I came out of the daze.
Because, friends – writing is cathartic for me. It’s a release, and it’s beyond appalling how Delta handled this situation. We will never fly Delta again and as much as we can help it, won’t be flying much anymore, ever again.
This leads me to how this situation is going to effect our business. After much discussion, Randy and I have decided to discontinue offering destination weddings outside of driving distance from Colorado – meaning we are only booking weddings in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Texas. That’s it. Even more so than that, we are cutting the number of weddings we are taking each year because we want to spend more time with Ricky and with our kids. We want to travel a bit less, be home a bit more and just kind of take a breather next year.
At this time, we have four dates left for 2019 weddings, that’s it. We’ve already updated our website to reflect our new policy changes, but if you have questions – just let us know.
Follow me @ashleydurhamphotography