Almost six years ago, my older brother had heart surgery. After that surgery, his health had gotten worse and worse. In fact, since this last March, our family has spent a great deal of time and effort to get him to his appointments, to emergency rooms, and shuttling him between one emergency care unit in Jackson and over to the VA hospital in Sacramento.
While our frustration has been with the VA in Sacramento, the nonsensical policies of hospitals when dealing with the VA, and of course the lack of communication at times, we just kept doing what we could do for him. Yes, even on a night when I was out of town and he tried calling me, our 81 year old mom picked him up at midnight at his home and transported him the hour and a half ride to the VA hospital in Sacramento because a local ambulance service didn't.
Please understand, this blog post is not meant to slight all of the wonderful efforts made by my sisters Valerie and Joanie, or my brothers Vernon and Howard, or anyone else. This is about the passing of our brother Herman Ray and my relationship with him, especially over these last 16 years.
Since late February, he spent more time in the hospital than not. About four months ago, because his body was retaining massive amounts of water and his liver and kidneys were feeling the impact of "aggressive" treatment, his "team" at the VA gave him just days to live. Weeks and a month at best. But, as unlikely as it was, he made a recovery that amazed us and his team.
Sadly, my bother's recovery didn't last and he was back in the hospital by October 25th. The VA in Sacramento said that they did not have a bed for him. So after going to the Emergency Room at Sutter Amador Hospital in Jackson, he was transported to Sutter Memorial in Sacramento.
Because of a few medical problems of my own, I was only able to talk to him on the phone. And frankly, after talking to those treating him there, it really sounded as though they would have him up and going in no time. We even discussed transferring him to a Skilled Nursing Facility so that he could build up his strength and get some therapy before going home again.
Late on November 1st, yes his birthday, I got a call that said that I better get down there to see him "if I want to see him alive."
Around midnight, I picked up my mom and by one o'clock we were at my older brother Herman's bedside in ICU at Sutter Memorial Hospital in Sacramento. He was barely coherent, but he knew we were there. We were there for a while before having to leave to take my mom back to her home in Ione.
RN Danielle Ruiz said she would pass the word on to let me know pf any changes. I thanked her and told her that I appreciated all of what she was doing. Like all of the staff there, RNs Jennifer Oscapinski, Rose Keyser, Paula Bennett, and RT Tina Sin, they were very wonderful and caring. And yes, I told RN Elissa Friedrich that I couldn't do her job. No, I really do not know how they do it.
I came home and cleaned up expecting to get another call. I was expecting the worse. I fell asleep in my recliner, and was out like a light for a few hours when I got a call from a Case Worker who was telling me about the plan to get him to a Skilled Nursing Facility. That was about 10 am, and I assumed that he condition had improved drastically.
By Noon, things took a bad turn and his treatment team wanted to have a tele-conference with me and my brother's two children. We had the tele-conference at about 3 pm.
With his cardiologist present, his treating physician Dr. Daniel Ikeda who told us the bad news. There was nothing more that could be done for Herman. They recommended that his aggressive medical treatment be stopped and comfort care begin so that he wouldn't endure any more pain since his liver and kidneys had all but completely shut down, and his heart was too blocked to function.
My brother was divorced and a widow. He lived alone and his children were on their own. He asked, and I accepted the responsibility of looking after his needs if he was ever in a position where he couldn't make a medical decision for himself.
Frankly, it has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, I'm very honored to do my best to see his wishes carried out.
We were not the closest brothers for many years because of this or that, but over the last 16 years he has been a great older brother and best friend. He moved to Sutter Creek and then to neighboring Jackson, and this brought him about 25 minutes away. And yes, he enjoyed coming out to see my wife and me. He also enjoyed coming out to shoot on my pistol range on the side of our house, going with me to get hay in Angels Camp, and of course having steak and eggs over at Mel & Faye's Diner in Jackson.
He called me just about everyday. Some times he needed to complain about something not going right in the world, but mostly we talked about growing up in Hawaii and how much we both miss those days.
He liked my little "ranch". But frankly, it's not much of a ranch more than it is a reminder of those days spent on our grandpa's ranch. And while I know some folks may have been fooled by his present-day city ways, my older brother was a real cowboy. And yes, I can attest that he could rope and ride and wrestle cows and calves, cattle of all sorts and temperaments, if need be.
We talked a lot about his being able to ride again. I'd promised him a bomb-proof horse that wouldn't kill him. And he'd tell me that that didn't sound like a bad way of going. Sadly, his health never allowed him to get back in the saddle. And yes, I feel that I really wish I had put my older brother on a horse like he did me when we were growing up.
As for the other side of that double-edge sword pertaining to his care at the end, I never thought this day was coming for some strange reason. I guess I accepted his refusing to believe that he may die. While he and I talked a lot about what to do in regards to his care, and what he wanted if and when he would die, he didn't want to make any arrangements. And while he had an Advance Directive and I had Power of Attorney for him, he didn't make out a Will.
So after talking with his his cardiologist and treating physician, after getting the bad news, I phoned my mom and told her that I'd be picking her up, that we needed to get back to the hospital. And yes, I knew there would be all sorts of problems coming up if he passed away because he and I didn't get a Will drawn up.
Along with my wife Deanna, we arrived at the hospital at about 7 pm. Yes, Sacramento is about 2 hours away. And yes, the mind wonders during a long quiet drive like that.
For me, I thought about our lives. I thought about how we have a large family, about how we finally became close, and about what he wanted. I wondered what to do with his home and property since I wouldn't have a legal leg to stand on to help him. But mostly, I thought about his wishes versus what was needed for the emotional state of his son and daughter who were with him in his ICU room when we arrived.
The doctors said they would not stop his aggressive care and start his comfort care until I arrived. And when my mom, my wife and I arrived, we were surprised to see his face under an oxygen mask. Yes, his breathing was shallow and he needed that thing to keep him alive.
When I checked on when the terminal comfort care would start, I was told that the end would start when I wanted it to. My friends, carrying out his last wishes were one of the hardest things that I've ever had to do.
I decided to wait until after a Chaplin showed up to give Herman the sacraments of the sick. When he arrived we all held hands and prayed. To myself, I begged God for a miracle. But no, none came.
I was told that Herman might gasp for air when his mask was removed before they replace it with another less intrusive nasal oxygen tube. I didn't want his children and grandchildren to see that. No, I didn't want that to be one of the last images of their father and grandfather. So I asked everyone to leave for a few minutes while RN Elissa Friedrich and RT Howard removed his mask and made him presentable.
I watched him as they got him ready. And yes, I tried to hold all my tears inside as he gasped a little. But soon, well soon he was just snoring away. Yes, he was asleep and snoring. And yes, they increased the morphine going to him steadily.
Before the others came back into the room, I held his hand, leaned over, and kissed the top of my brother's head. I told him that I loved him. I told him that I was doing what he wanted. And whether it was my imagination or not, as I squeezed his hand, I thought I felt him squeeze mine back. So yes, even at that moment, I knew that I was going to miss him something awful.
Yes, I will miss how we laughed about the old days when we kids were climbing trees and getting into mischief. I will miss reminiscing about how we didn't worry about getting hurt or having to wear bicycle helmets and pads and such just to have fun as kids do today. I will miss our talks about how our Oahu has changed into what it is today. And yes, I will certainly miss us joking about how men today are being feminized and how it has become fashionable to be an angry women and looking like an MMA fighter.
I will miss his rants about how parents are to blame for much of the wrong going on these days, and how being a rebel doesn't mean being a jerk. And of course, I will miss him going on about his frustration with his beloved Oakland Raiders. Yes, he was a devout Raider fan.
The others came back in the room and though not an easy thing, like me, they were there to say goodbye as well. They were there in his final hours. They were doing what family is supposed to do. All out of love.
I was told that it might take minutes, or it might take a day or two. It was up to Herman Ray. So with that, we watched him sleep and snore. And soon, while he slept, we talked about the times and the things we will all remember. And yes, we laughed at some of those things. The laughter was not loud but more like a coping mechanism. It was needed in that bleak moment.
It was around 1 am that my mom was looking pretty tired, and the nurse had just increased Herman's morphine drip to 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. It was then that I said that I needed to take mom home. It was then that most everyone then left.
Of course, not my nephew Steven who had been there sitting with his dad for three days. He had been sleeping on the floor in a corner of that ICU room and he refused to leave. Yes, he stayed with his dad to the end. And frankly, I have never more proud of him.
My wife and I dropped my mom off at her home about 3 am. My wife and I got home to Glencoe a little before 4:30 am. We were in bed less than an hour when our phone rang at 5:30 am. It was RN Elissa Friedrich telling me that his blood pressure and heart beat had dropped to the point where it would be soon.
I thanked her for the call. She is a great person, very caring, and she said how sorry she was for my family. Again I thanked her. A couple of minutes after I hung up with her, my nephew Steven called to tell us that his dad, my older brother, just passed away quietly.
Steven then called my mom, his grandma, and he also called his sister and others. And frankly, while I was mentally and emotional exhausted, I answered the phone every time my wife answered it and handed it to me.
Since I was informed that we have three days to have him out of the hospital's mortuary, I worked on this most of Thursday and Friday. I have gone through most of his papers and now I'm forming a battle plan as to what to do next.
At midnight on Thursday, my nephew Steven and I talked for about an hour. I hope and pray that he and his sister, my nephew and niece, know that our family is there for them -- not just now, but forever. Yes, we are there for them. They should not feel alone because their dad has passed.
At 10 am, I met with him and my niece Jessica at their dad's house. My wife, my mom, bother sisters, and Steven's close friend Gina were there. I let them know what I've found in his papers, what I'm doing in the form of arrangements, and we tossed around what we all wanted in the way of a memorial.
Since my brother wants to return home to Hawaii, and have his ashes scattered at sea, we will do that. When that happens, I will make sure his children and grandchildren see where we were from on Oahu, where we grew up, the place that influenced who we are. And no, looking back on life, he and I were different in some ways but not where it counts. Yes, love and commitment to family is at our core.
As for my brother Herman Ray, well he was ornery, hardheaded, a real rebel. But besides swearing no different than other Boatswain-mate that I've ever known, he was very proud of his many years in the Navy. So yes, we all agreed that we will have a military memorial service for him. And yes, I will be proud to arrange that.
My job, what role I have is actually simple. I have to do what my brother wanted me to do, while at the same time doing right by my niece and nephew. They are my brother Herman's children, they are my blood, and my soul. And yes, I look at them and I see my brother and that is a comfort to me.
My brother Herman Ray Correa passed away at around 5:30 am on Thursday, November 3rd, 2016. He was 62 years and 2 days old. And though this is now Saturday, I already miss him a great deal.
So now, why write this story? Well, I wanted to tell you about my older brother. I wanted to tell you how a good man passed away recently.
You see, I write about the real Old West. I write about guns, and horses, and Conservative politics. I've even written about my love for America. And now, I wanted to write something about my big brother Herman Ray.
I love the fact that he loved my blog, and that he was always supportive when it came to my writing. And yes, he was absolutely pissed when he found out about a few teachers who tried their best to stop me from writing when I was in my twenties and thirties.
In his life, my brother made some mistakes. But then again, haven't we all? I mean really, who among us hasn't done things we regret? I know I have.
As for being a dad, he told me that he was trying to be as good a dad as possible in his own way. But friends, as he said, most of the time he didn't know if he was screwing up or not. I can attest to the fact that he loved both of his children and worried about them.
So friends, as far as I'm concerned, my brother was a good man trying to do right. And yes, in many ways, that's especially true during his last days when he was trying to make up for some of those mistakes he made.
A very long time ago, I found out how short life really is. I've learned that if we are lucky, have longevity in our families, and work very hard at maintaining a healthy lifestyle, then maybe we may live a little longer than some. And while, I know that that is about all that we can hope and pray for, I know my brother Herman is now with God, our dad and grandparents, and the angels in Heaven.
I also know that I will see him again. You see, I truly believe that our souls will again saddle up and ride together like we did when we were kids. And yes, since he liked to read my blog, I know real well that he would have loved to read that.