The year was 2005, two months before Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on thousands of lives.
I am staring at my dead brother. He is housed in a clear, glass box, plugged into the wall, so his body would stay preserved long enough for us to say our goodbyes.
I was 24 years old and more than seven thousand miles away when I first heard the news. I was in my hometown New York, finishing up my post baccalaureate requirements for entering medical school.
I was preparing for my final exams when my parents, both doctors, called to tell me that my mother was flying to India earlier than planned, to see my brother.
See, my parents and I were planning on visiting him in ten days, once I had finished my exams. So this news caught me by surprise.
“Why are you leaving early? What is going on? Is he ok?”
“Yes, yes Ramesh, everything is fine. Harish is in the hospital, but your aunt is with him and he will be ok.”
I was the youngest and most emotional member of our family. They thought they were “protecting” me by sugar coating the situation.
I was nervous.
I hadn’t seen my brother in six months. He had departed New York City to start a business with a colleague and friend. He had big dreams of starting a day trading firm while training less fortunate Indian professionals how to do what he did.
And for once in his adult life, he was really jazzed about something. I was excited for him and for what might come.
But those dreams ended on June 10, 2005 when doctors and nurses failed him.
While in the hospital, after suffering a heart attack at age 33, he was left unrestrained, and with little sedation. An intubation tube sat lodged in his throat to help him breathe. Paradoxically, it became the reason for his untimely death.
Due to his lack of sedation and with his hands left unrestrained, he yanked the tube out of his throat. This caused a massive heart attack and his body to crash, leaving him in a comatose state from which he would never awake.
By God’s grace, my mother arrived before he finally passed away. She was with him when he entered the world and she would be with him when he departed. But I would never speak to him again.
His loss left me with lots of deep philosophical questions. Almost immediately I questioned if I could be a doctor anymore. I didn’t want to be in hospitals re-living these moments, day in and day out, yet I could be the doc who would save lives and prevent negligence like this from happening to others. Ultimately, I chose not to continue in medicine.
I also had practical questions. What would happen next? Who would pay for how my brother was treated?
I was angry.
I didn’t want money, I wanted answers.
I wanted justice to be served.
Who would help us do that and what would that process be like? How long would it take? How much would it cost? Who is the right person to represent us amidst all the lawyers out there? Would it be worth it? Would it take longer for us to move on as a result?
What would my brother want us to do?
It was hard to figure out and some twelve years later (the legal system in India is horrendous, we are still battling it out in court).
Some years later I decided to become a lawyer myself. I decided to focus on winning medical malpractice claims for those who suffered like me. Maybe I could not fight for him in the hospital but I could do it in the courtroom.
It’s a strange feeling to be without your only sibling. Twelve years later the wounds have still not fully healed; I don’t believe they ever will. But that’s for a good reason…
It is imperative that we do something good with the tragedies we experience in life. Motivation can come from all sorts of places, but the strongest motivators come from the deepest pains we experience.
I can never bring Harish back, but he stands with me, every day; every time I pick up the phone and talk to a malpractice victim; and every time I look in the mirror and ask myself if I am living my life fully.
This is why I do what I do.
I love you bro, thank you for this gift.
The Reddy Law Group