Chris Rich was diagnosed with Epilepsy at just eight months old but that hasn’t stopped him from living a full life, one that is committed to saving the lives of others.
Chris first started helping others as a volunteer firefighter and EMT. He was mostly operating as support in the fire department, which means he wasn’t breaking down doors and carrying people out of burning buildings but he was there and ready when the other firefighters needed him. He kept engines running and on occasion helped to put out exterior flames. As an EMT he ran thousands of calls. He would perform simple tasks of helping the elderly get dressed, which I for one did not know was an EMT’s duty but I’m glad to know someone is out there looking out for the underdressed elderly. He would also field major calls like providing emergency help for an overturned ski bus, but majority of his calls fell somewhere in the middle, car accidents, injuries etc. In his position as a volunteer EMT he learned that he had a knack for working with people who were intoxicated or suffering from mental health issues and decided to dedicate his life to helping them.
Chris’s next step was to get his degree in Psychology. The process took him six years to complete. That’s two years longer than the average student takes but considering Chris was experiencing 400 to 500 seizures a year I would say he completed it in record time.
When reminiscing about his college experience Chris shared a wonderful story as a reminder that it’s ok for those of us with Epilepsy to laugh at ourselves from time to time, and to be grateful for the love and support we receive from people who care about us. It was spring in Rochester, New York, a time of year when melting snow and fresh rainfall would combine to create rich fields of slush and mud. While trudging through the slush to the dorms with his girlfriend Chris experienced a partial seizure and decided to sit smack dab in the middle of a mud puddle. Without thinking twice, his girlfriend sat beside him, the two of them in the heart of campus just sitting there in the mud. As passersby looked at Chris, his girlfriend would usher them on saying, “Move along.” Chris laughed when he shared this story with me, and I laughed when I heard it. So many of us have similar experiences to this, things that on the surface sound embarrassing but if we can laugh at ourselves they are empowering pieces of what make each and everyone of us strong and unique.
But I digress. Back to the life saving!
After college Chris got a job in a 15 bed locked in patient psych unit where he led groups and helped feed and care for the patients. In this position he performed a lot of crisis intervention, talking people down from tough places before things became physical. His co-workers would acknowledge when he didn’t feel well and on those days he would perform lower impact tasks like paperwork. Having just listened to a podcast that said as recently as the 1940s people with Epilepsy were being committed to psych wards, I find it incredibly empowering and inspiring that Chris chose to work in one. Rather than being committed to a psych unit, he committed himself to one and to helping the patients there who couldn’t help themselves.
Chris’s next step was working in the emergency room of a level one trauma center. It was a very fast paced environment where he would see an average of eight clients in twelve hours. Many of the people coming through the doors were homeless or suffered from chronic mental illness and it was his job to assess whether they needed immediate treatment or another course of action. Many peoples’ lives were literally in his hands in this position and he came to the aid of each and every one of them.
Chris found himself in a new position working for a non-profit mental health center during the height of the synthetic marijuana crisis. In this role he was still conducting assessments on patients but his job was a bit more dangerous. He worked by himself, seeing six to eight people a shift with half of the patients would become violent due to illness or withdrawn but Chris didn’t waiver. He stayed strong and helped as many people as he could in his role.
Today, Chris has turned in the crisis units and dangerous patients for a desk and data analysts. His work is a bit quieter but it is still committed to helping others. Chris is now the guy who makes sure that the government holds up on its end of the bargain when patients receive state funded treatment. He processes paperwork that helps to keep people from experiencing crippling medical bills. It may not sound flashy but if you have ever experienced or even stressed about having to experience a medical bill without insurance, you know just how vital his job is.
When I asked Chris if he felt comfortable with my titling this post “People With Epilepsy Can Save Lives” because of the work that he has done for people with trauma and substance abuse he humbly said “Yes.” stating that he knew that he had saved four lives by keeping people on the phone until the police were able to disarm them. I have a feeling that the number of lives he has saved through his service work goes well beyond that.
Having Epilepsy is a struggle. Some days it feels too hard for me to even save my own life. I can’t begin to put myself in the shoes of someone like Chris, a real hero who is fighting his Epilepsy battle while helping others fight their demons and saving their lives along the way. I am honored to have heard his story and be able to share it with all of you.