Chris is an Orlando area, firefighter with a fascinating story. He shares his experiences as a two time survivor of childhood cancer and as a firefighter.
His story highlights a common theme from my guests that none of us are a blank slate when we sign up for the fire service. Chris discusses how the unresolved trauma prior to the fire service and the trauma from the job combined to affect both his professional and personal life. Chris’s journey and his recovery make for a very powerful story
Thank you for joining me for another episode of the things we all carry. Today. I sit down with Chris, from Florida. I took what can be best described as a working vacation. Sometime to get away and relax yet, record a few shows. Chris was willing to sit down with me and discuss his Chris is an Orlando area, firefighter with a fascinating story. He shares his experiences as a two time survivor of childhood cancer. And as a firefighter.
His story highlights a common theme from my guests that none of us are a blank slate when we sign up for the fire service. Chris discusses how the unresolved trauma prior to the fire service and the trauma from the job combined to affect both his professional and personal life. Chris’s journey and his recovery make for a very powerful story A quick reminder to please help us build a community which not only recognizes, but supports each other through the struggles and recovery. Reach out through Instagram. At the things we all carry. Or email my email@example.com to offer support and share your
Please remember to leave a review on iTunes and give a shout out to any first responder, you know, love or care about. Y’all enjoy the show
Chris: this is my first time doing any of this kind of stuff. So
Stack: well, believe it or not it’s actually comfortable once we get into it. You’ll just, like I said, the only thing I need you to do is keep that mic in that same spot where whenever you’re gonna talk. All right.
Okay. Yeah, I’ll probably just screw up this introduction cuz I do have every time. So if you’re ready, we can get started. Sounds good. All right. So today we’re sitting down with Chris, he’s from Florida. He’s been in EMS since 2000. He’s been a firefighter since 2006 and he’s currently a firefighter and a paramedic as well as an instructor for the paramedic school.
And I’m going to let him start with his family history and then we’ll get into a discussion about his life. So how you doing Chris?
Chris: Doing well, actually. Thanks for being on the show. Thank you. Where can I start my family history? I am the oldest of two kids, mom and dad. Great supporting parents, loving parents still together to this day, which is rare to find a little brother.
He he went into the Navy after high school. He did what, 15 years in the Navy before retiring out. And I was the oldest there and I wanted to go into the military when I was younger. Actually before my brother did, I was in civil air patrol the whole nine, that kind of thing. And that’s where I thought I was gonna go to.
But then unfortunate events happened that kind of put things like that on the hold. Where did you grow up? Born and raised in so Louisiana little town called Houma. It’s about 60 miles. So Southwest of new Orleans.
Stack: Oh, so down
Chris: there. Oh, way down there. Yeah. pretty much the Gulf of Mexico. I was gonna, the water is right there.
The board and raised over there, weren’t jobs down there at the time for my parents. So we up and moved everything to Florida, where there was more job opportunities, stuff like that. We went and moved out to Sanford moved in with a couple of friends and then moved to Sanford, but raised down their majority of my life.
And then we moved to Orlando. So were
Stack: you formative years in Florida or were they in LA.
probably Florida. Okay.
Chris: Florida’s where I’ve spent. Most of my time Florida is where I call home. I still have all my family in Louisiana. Go there back a few times or a bunch Christmas if I can little harder now, I try to get down there as much as I can. Most of my time here though has been in Florida.
Stack: So I know we’re gonna get into some fire service stuff and that history but one of the things that was a major part of your life growing up was a diagnosis of leukemia. You wanna talk about that a little bit? I know it was, I believe at nine years old, correct?
Chris: That is correct. We moved to Florida, moved to Sanford remember going to the beach when I was nine years old, somewhere around in nine.
And that. Day. We went to the beach. I was out there only for a few hours. And then all of a sudden I’ve got I’m red, all over huge, big sunburns. My own entire body is full. And second degree burns pretty much all over my entire body. Go to the hospital. They wrap me up in bandages. I go to school, I’m looking like a mummy in school and not long after I healed from that really bad sunburn.
I started feeling real weak. My skin started turning yellow and jaundice. The smell of foods would make me sick. My stomach. I needed to be in a dark room because the light was sensitive to my eyes. I couldn’t see something was wrong. Parents noticed it right away. I wasn’t going to school because I was sick.
It, something was seriously wrong. Mom and dad took me to Arnold Palmer hospital. That’s here in Florida. It’s a pediatric hospital. And then to the sort of like the urgent care, wasn’t an ER, but it was an urgent care. My mom worked for Orlando health and Arnold Palmer is part of it. So she knew who to take me to where to go, that kind of thing.
So went out there and they did some blood work really didn’t find anything outrageous. I’m sorry, actually, before that they took me to my doctor’s office. My pediatrician. I’m sorry. And now all the stuff is coming back. My mom took me to the pediatrician’s office before we went to the, on a Palmer.
Stack: I think we got a helicopter coming over here. Yeah, I think so. I. Stroke of luck. Bad timing. Go
Chris: ahead. Bad timing. Some of this stuff is hard to remember from that far back,
Stack: but oh, definitely. I’m. I’m always impressed that people do remember that from those moments that far back.
Chris: Oh man.
So reverse a little bit. Because it actually when I was feeling that sick, my mom and dad took me to my pediatrician. Okay. Doctor’s office. Wasn’t the urgent care at that time. So took me to the pediatrician. My doctor’s name was Dr. Kotch and they did blood work. They pulled my dad aside cuz my mom was still at work that day.
My dad took me in and I pulled my dad aside and I remember something was wrong. Something bad is happening. The doctor and my dad left the room. They closed the door just a little bit. I got off the bed. Walked over to the side of the door where I can still hear what’s going on. And they said Steve that’s my dad’s name.
We think there’s something going on with Chris and we don’t want to sugarcoat anything, but his blow work isn’t coming out. And we think it’s cancer, but we need to do more result, more and more testing. And I need to do a spinal tap on Chris right here in the office. And then he needs to go to Arnold Palmer hospital, that urgent care thing at the time.
And as soon as I heard that I freaked out because I thought cancer, everybody dies cancer. This is bad. So I went for on the side where I can hear at the door. Where they had that little crack and I hid behind the examination table, which was, you got two walls and the examination table. So I hid behind it.
They couldn’t find me. The staff was looking for me in the clinic. They didn’t know where I was. They walked in the room and they couldn’t see me. They couldn’t find me. I was so scared. I hid back there. And finally I got out of there and they find me, my dad gives me a big hug and we go in for the spinal tap.
I’m not good with needles. No kid is right. And spinal taps are these huge needles that you have to roll into a ball. And then they stick this needle in between the two bones in your in your spine. And they draw out. Or fluid
Stack: the cerebral fi the spinal fluid, correct? Correct. Yeah. I were kindred spirits then, cuz I had one in
Chris: middle school, man.
Later on, those happened to me a lot. Yeah. And got used to ’em but at that time I didn’t know what was going on. So they drew that back. They sent that off to the lab and I went to on a Palmer because my blood count was really low. My white blood cell count. That was fine. That was elevated.
Actually it was high and my red blood cells were low. So I went to there. I had to get blood transfusions right away on the way to going to the urgent care, we stopped by to tell my mom, she worked at the urgent care in Lake Buena Vista. We told her what was going on. She already knew because my dad had talked to her, but she wanted to see me.
On the way to going to pick up or to get my blood transfusion. And she wanted to come with us for this. This is outrageous picked her up on the way over to auto Palmer. And I was admitted there for testing tons of blood work. I got, I received red blood cells started feeling better. And then we started on the program of of cancer treatment.
Stack: So how long was the treatment? How long was a program for you?
Chris: So I started off on a a protocol or a treatment regimen that was a little behind. What year was this? I’m sorry, this was 91. Okay. So I was nine years old, 1991,
that treatment. lasted almost a year at that time. And it was just chemotherapy and it was really high doses of chemotherapy in the hospital pretty much, every week. And it was like every third day or so. I was inside the hospital getting whichever chemotherapy treatment spinning sometimes anywheres from, a couple of hours for a quick treatment that they can do in the outpatient clinic or almost a week doing long doses of treatment.
So open the cancer floor for that time, but around a whole bunch of other CA cancer kids that was a big big part of my life for a while. It lasted basically until I was man from nine until I was. 11, maybe 12.
Stack: So at least two, two
Chris: and a half years. Yeah. Of, of treatments and blood work and revisiting everything that was wrong and making sure everything is gonna, play out.
Stack: So at what age were you determined to be in remission?
Chris: I think I want to say it was two years after I was complete with my first it was either year or two. I can’t remember exactly what that was, but I think maybe 13 or 14. Okay.
Stack: So you spent a good, that’s a good three to four year chunk of your life and very early part of your life dealing with a huge issue.
What’s what about school? What about life? What about everything that outside of that did just go on hold for you.
Chris: it seems like it I didn’t have a normal childhood per se, because I wasn’t allowed to go around all the other kids wasn’t able, I wasn’t allowed to play sports. Wasn’t able to do a lot of stuff because I had an infused support place, which it, that’s where I was getting my medication that’s that was implanted on my chest that, that hindered a lot of stuff.
So I stayed home. I had hospital home bound education, not a normal education. My brother went to school and all the friends and stuff he had, I had because if he took ’em home. Yeah. And those were my friends because that’s what I knew the kids in the, around the neighborhood. Those are my friends because I didn’t go to over school to meet other people, meet friends.
Stack: So around 13 or 14, you’re determined to be in remission. That’s right. And then. What you go back to school then, do you do re quote unquote reintegrate into life?
Chris: I do. It was fifth grade. I went to Lancaster elementary. Everything started off well, I, and then some of the things they asked me to check on to see, to make sure I didn’t relapse after my remission.
One thing that they asked me to do was finding checking myself for lumps my testicles and God at 13, 14. That’s embarrassing. I don’t want to say, I’m gonna tell the doctor I’m doing it, but I’m not gonna tell him the truth. I It’s 13, 14 years old. No, but over the course of.
Six months, probably around six or seven months or so. I noticed some lumps in my testicle. I didn’t say anything. So when I talked to the doctors asking him, when he asked him, Nope, I’m fine. I’m good. I didn’t want him going down there to the touch. He took my my word for it. And this one time, I didn’t come straight out with it.
And he knew something was up and he’s let me take a look. So you hesitated. I did. And he knew, and as soon as he put his hands on the testicle there, he found some lumps. So the
Stack: hesitation might have saved your life.
Chris: Yeah. Because if it could have gone on and not letting anybody know, I, I could be in that situation could be dead.
Stack: what’s the course of action from there then. Now you’re 15 and you’re now you’re diagnosed with another cancer.
Chris: Yep. So 15 here it is. Again, I am now diagnosed with my second course of this leukemia and it developed as a lump in the testicle and testicular cancer for men.
And later on they ended up having to put me through treatment again, but this time it wasn’t just chemotherapy. Now they needed to fix the areas that had received the, that the leukemia or the cancer cells. And they started radiation. Radiation therapy is high dose right in that particular area.
So I had my radiation first and then my chemotherapy second, they asked me at that point if I wanted to have kids later on, because this is our chance. And if it goes away forever. You’re getting radiated down there. There’s a good possibility. You will be sterile
Stack: as a 15 year old kid wrapping that, wrapping your head around that word alone.
Yep. Is it is probably extremely difficult and UN and unfathomable.
Chris: It’s embarrassing. It is heartbreaking. It is scary. Everything negative you get from this, it’s that. So 15 years old, I’m here making a choice before they go in and doing a biopsy. And before they’re going in and doing all this radiation, Hey, you need to save some stuff.
Some people say this is funny. This might be a comical part of it, but.
Stack: I guess it’s all about
Chris: perspective. Yeah. It, and it’s not the funny being, Hey, you got cancer and the testicles kind of thing. It’s, I’ve got to now produce sperm that they can cryo freeze and say for a later date when I want to have kids.
So now I have to, it felt uncomfortable being in a fertility office, doing this in a bathroom or doing this into an office to a cup at 15 years old. I’m not even telling my parents I’m doing this kinda stuff. , it’s embarrassing.
Stack: Yeah, but at 15, at least you knew what you were doing. I was a pro.
Chris: Exactly. That’s what you would think, but then they’re like we could do this in a more comfortable area if you want. What’s more comfortable. Yeah, absolutely. You could take it home and then your mom can bring it over. Nope. Oh man. so not only. Okay. So I, I said that was better than a whole bunch of staff looking at me waiting on me.
Do I go too short? Do I go too long? I don’t know. What’s the right timeframe. How long should this take? That’s a lot to, that’s a lot
Stack: of pressure. It’s a lot of pressure for a 15 year old.
Chris: Yeah. Forget the stress of having this other stuff happening to me. I’m worried about this right now. So I go home and I do what I have to do.
And my mom is waiting on me and to make things worse, my grandmother came over to help take care of me as well from Louisiana. So now she’s also waiting on me. My mom asked me at some point, Hey, do you need magazines or something? I don’t even know what to do. My mom, no, just don’t talk to me.
I just let me concentrate. So I do
Stack: this, the last thing you need is your mom’s voice in your head.
Chris: last thing I’m saying. So I do what I have to do. I put it in this cup and then it goes into a paper bag and my mom has to run this thing over to the hospital as fast as she could, because it has to go on cryo and there’s only so long.
So yeah, I do that. My grandmother’s there, my mom’s there. She gets the plastic or the paper bag. They run it off to the hospital goes on cryo. I’m good to go. But yeah, that’s the funny aspect of it. That’s the
Stack: embarrassing it’s yes. It’s definitely embarrassing as a 15 year old. I think as an adult going to a clinic will probably be embarrassing, but as a 15 year, old’s probably paralyzingly embarrassing so
Yeah. That crap that probably stuck with me for life. I got issues from that.
Stack: So what’s the treatment plan for the testicular cancer. So
Chris: what this protocol is the radiation to the testicles. They shrink that thing down as much as they possibly could. And Chemotherapy knocks out the rest of it and restarts everything.
If this treatment did not work the next option after that is my bone marrow transplant. And that’s where we are with that. So that treatment process took a little while not as long as my first round of chemo. Okay. Because I got a newer up to date protocol that we were running through.
So it was a little better.
Stack: And then I know that in this timeframe between this nine and this 15 year old Chris and all the treatments you were doing, it was there that you, before you went in as a nine year old, you had a desire to be a cop, correct?
Chris: Yep. So we’ll forgive you for
Stack: that right off the bat, but
Chris: ah, thank you.
Gosh, where would I be if I was a cop right now? but at nine through 15, I wanted to be a cop. My second choice is wanting to be a firefighter. And the minute I got diagnosed with cancer, I thought, man, there’s no way I could be a cop because if I get shot, I’ll bleed out. I’ll die. I’m a kid, right?
Stack: imagination is running wild.
Chris: Yep. So I changed it off to yeah. Military, which also turned out to be a note or the the firefighter. And we had a group of firefighters from a local fire department that came out to the hospital and they were, doing the whole show, the truck thing, talk about their equipment and how it’s like being a firefighter.
My God, I need to do that. That’s where I want to be. Sounded fun. Be a hero. You can do all that kind of stuff. And after everything. Introduced to us and they did their whole presentation comes back and we’re meeting the firefighters one on one and I have my glasses. So I’m big glasses. I’m baldheaded, big glasses.
Can’t see. And I’m like, man, I wanna be one of you when I grow up, I think, and this guy just, I, maybe it was just having an off day. Maybe I took it wrong, but he came back and said, ah, I don’t know if you can be a firefighter. Maybe he was joking around. Hopefully he was joking around, but I didn’t take it that way.
He was you’ve got, glasses and we have to wear these. So when we go in fires, you have to be able to put mask on. If you can’t have your glasses, you can’t see how are you gonna be able to fire, fire and go win a buildings kind of thing. And talk me down from this. I’m like at a kid. You don’t do that.
You encourage him, especially a cancer kid, let alone I had cancer. Yeah. And you’re talking about something else, right? I’m like, I didn’t think I had to deal with
Stack: that. Yeah. I just wanna make it through this treatment. Don’t shoot my dreams down.
Chris: Yeah. Now I, I just man, I wanna be one of you.
And so that idea got shot down because of that situation. So my next option after that was the EMS and trying that, because then I’m not a firefighter. Don’t have to wear the SCPA, the mask. It should be good. That’s where that left off at, went through all my treatments went and be went to civil air patrol.
I was able to do all that kind of stuff was able to go to my last two years of high school. Basically my junior and senior years of high school were it for education. Everything else was hospital home bound. And I would go to the high schools, just for my electives. My language classes or ROTC, whatever those are.
And right after high school, I decided, Hey, EMS, let’s go. And Valencia had a program for
Stack: EMTs, Valencia being the community college in the area. Yep.
Chris: Valencia was the community college and mom and dad fully supported me. And I went that direction. That’s when my EMS career began. You want a
Stack: drink before we start?
Oh yeah. Tell me, go for it. I’ve been over here sipping on this. And so you I felt
Oh, that’s good.
Stack: All right. So your EMS career starts right after high school. You go to community college for is it two year program for EMS or is it a truncated program for EMS
Chris: at that time? It was six months. Okay. Six months being going to EMT school, doing your clinicals. After that, you go out, you graduate.
You’re good to go with whatever department you
Stack: choose. So you’re 18 or 19 years old when you get your EMTB or your, is that your paramedic at the time?
Chris: EMTB okay. At the time I did, you had to be an EMT for a year before you can even go into paramedic school at that time. Gotcha. So I had to wait for a while, went into working at the hospital system.
I was already working at a hospital doing some ER, tech work or guest services kind of thing. So it only made sense that I stick with the same hospital I was working for and I did mobile. Which is their interfacility hospital transport. Gotcha. As an EMT, when I was doing that I, you worked a few places or a few jobs.
It was the 9 1, 1 company for a little bit, maybe one, two, even three jobs at a time at one point doing EMT because you have all this extra time. And it wasn’t until 2005 that I went to lake county and went to lake EMS. That was my first real you’re in it. Completely. 9 1, 1. This is your thing. And that’s by year after that, I started fire school and got my firefighter still stayed with EMS full-time, but I worked part-time with.
Or even quasi full time with other fire departments in the area. So anywhere’s from Minola mascot Mon for all M’s my department now is with an M . So I’m sticking with the M at least you’re consistent. Yeah. So I did my EMS. I did that. I work as a tech in the ER for a long time. I got a lot of experience that working as a technician in the ERs worked with great doctors who gave me a lot of good patient assessment skills, stuff like that, but always in it at this point, I was a hundred percent into it.
That is probably the middle of when everything started accumulating.
Stack: What do you mean the middle?
Chris: We’re gonna do the whole PTSD thing. At this point, right? It’s something that’s to me, it like a bucket and every bad call or every critical thing that happens in your life goes into this bucket.
As a kid, I had a lot of that. I had the cancers and everything, but the first part of my cancer treatment when I was nine through almost 15, I lost a lot of my friends that I was childhood friends with. I would see ’em in the hospitals every week. We became friends and then all of a sudden I’m going to a funeral and next couple weeks, I’m going to another funeral.
I hear this one pass away and it’s nonstop. And even going through when I was 15, going to 17 same thing. So at one point I stopped going to funeral. And I disconnected myself from life and said, okay, they’re dead. Just go. That’s it. Now I start this EMS career and I see all these things and I’m really good at separating work and my home life.
So good that it actually became bad for me because there was such a disconnect at this point. And I didn’t even realize that up until, a few years back that it’s gonna be my problem. I’m gonna have to hold onto. So being in the middle being, this is where it actually starts. That bucket now starts to get filled a lot faster.
Stack: You had a head start of filling that bucket.
Chris: Yep. I was already disconnected at that point because of my traumas as a kid, with the cancers, with all that kind of stuff, a lot of loss there, a ton of loss. I remember we have a kid his name was DJ and they do a baby DJ phone with XL one oh six 0.7.
That’s where that came from this kid. He was God little. He was I don’t remember how old he was, maybe three or four and he would stop off at every room on the floor cancer floor. Hey, good morning. It’s time to wake up. Good morning. It’s time to wake up every single morning. I was there on one morning.
That kid was not there. He did not say that. And my where’s DJ he’s. He was on the same type of rotation. We’re on the same things where’s DJ. . And when I nurses said Chris DJ passed away, that broke my heart. At that point, I was done. It was, it felt like that was the time that I was actually, it connected like that.
I’m I need to separate this because now it’s hurting
Stack: too bad, separate this as in separate emotions,
Chris: separate the emotions from life. And it started me off, on being , this robot. Yes. And today it, it even affected it because it’s, I’m very professional when I go to work or when I’m teaching or at the school.
And it’s. It gives me more of a unapproachable sometimes to, to my peers, because I’m pardon. It’s like I have a resting bitch face because I’m focused, I’m driven and there’s no haha comedic thing. It’s do this work play is not this time. So that kind of hindered a lot of things as well. So
Stack: do you know, like during this early part, the middle part that you call when it was primarily EMS, do things stand out to you or is this just an accumulation of all this shit that comes down on you?
All the little shit, medium shit, big shit, whatever.
Chris: The calls that I got at while working for lake county and lake EMS or lake Sumter at the time. Some of those I have never seen before, and it was hard to figure out how to get out of, I’m trying to explain how to, when you say
Stack: you had never seen a cause before, is it’s just, were they rare calls or were they just traumatic or impactful calls that were new to you?
Chris: Okay. So let’s just say one of the calls that, there’s a bunch. But with working with lake EMS, there’s this this one call that stands out and it actually triggered some events later on, with a sod truck and it’s six o’clock in the morning just before shift change at.
sod truck comes in contact with a dump truck that obliterated the cab of the sod truck. So we pull up on scene. There is, sod it all over the place, the cab, nothing there we ask where the patient’s at. Right over there, off to the right. Okay. We go over there. This mom, it’s this lady, big lady.
She doesn’t have her, her left leg. Her right leg is gone from the knee down, just at the mid thigh. So that was a little traumatic. She was yelling and screaming. And then we hear on the other side of the road, Hey, we have another patient over here. It’s a kid. The kid’s underneath the pile of saw a.
That didn’t know anything had to happened. She was just going through to get around the accident, ran over this pile of thought this kid’s three years old, maybe runs over. It goes home later on. She does come back and stuff like that. Once she figures out, maybe something else has happened. But now we have a mom over there who is missing a leg.
And on the other side of the road is her kid that was sleeping in the back. And coloring books and everything else scattered around the cab. So we’re, we know somebody else was back there and that was the kid intubate. The kid. We have to intubate the kid in the middle of the street, call air care.
The mom is too heavy for air care to fly. So we have to ground her. You have two situations. The mom is scared about what’s going on with her leg. She doesn’t even mention. Her kid who is right across and she is looked off to the right and she can see this. She can see both teams working, one on her kid, one on her.
She doesn’t care about the kid. She’s caring about this leg right now. That kind of trauma, those kind of calls stuck with me.
Stack: Yeah. They’ll stick with anybody. That
Chris: was just one of those ones. It was a trigger. It was one that filled up the bucket more than it should have. And then other calls, months and months later, or years later like a pickup or a truck that’s driving a bunch of potato potato chips or crackers.
So it’s a semi , he’s driving down the road over in in sumter county and he veers off and he slams into a tree. We get called to go out there. We’re I’m on an ambulance at this time. We’re first on scene. There’s cars around us, and they’re asking us to help this guy. We could see him inside the cab.
He is moving. He is yelling. He can’t get out of the cab of that truck. There’s flames from the entire back end of this truck, moving forwards towards the cab. Everybody around us is yelling at us to go do something well, I’m on an ambulance. I can’t do anything. I can’t even get close enough to this truck because the flames are so hot.
Stack: do something. They want you to go put this fire out and get him out. You can’t get him out. As long as that fire’s
Chris: raging. Yep. We had fire extinguishers there, but we couldn’t even get close enough to use those. That’s not even
Chris: touch it anyway. Nope. So we see this guy and he’s banging on the windows, trying to get out.
Nothing we can do about it. We’re sitting there watching this guy pretty much cook. He bust out the front windows and we see him hang over the front. We still can’t do anything about it. And now the, everybody around us is yelling at us. Fire department gets on scene. They put out the fire. This guy had dropped in front of the truck and tried to crawl his way to us.
We still couldn’t do anything. That’s the first time I seen anything like that, how am I supposed to take that? I, that bucket just got even worse. It just got even fuller. And eventually ME got there and they were like, we can’t find the body. And I’m like, Hey, look, you’re standing on it. They have to pick him up in pieces.
And not, but an hour ago he was alive looking as yelling at us, wanting us to help him. Nothing. We can do that. That kind of trauma, that kind of stuff is what I’m filling my head with. There’s other calls. There’s multiple calls on that day
Stack: with the truck fire. What do you do after that?
Do you just return to service or do you, or is there any processing that goes on at that time?
Chris: At that time there wasn’t anything there that, that whole look that’s part of your job and deal with it. There wasn’t a debrief, like a stress debriefing there wasn’t an after incident debriefing. Nothing.
Stack: Let’s be honest too.
I Even if there was a an after incident debrief or a stress debrief with a call like that’s not enough. Anyone?
Chris: No. After the kid one, we had gone back to the station and they’re like, Hey, do you need anything? Okay, good. You’re good to go home. The fire department got one us on em. We didn’t get anything.
Stack: So you say you’re good to go home. Is that because the shift was over or shift was over. Okay. So it wasn’t because they were giving you like, okay, go take care of yourself. It was all right. That
Chris: Dave’s done. Exactly. Okay. We came into our late we came in back in late and the other shift took over.
You’re good to go home. Not a thing, not even afterwards. Did we get anything? So probably at that time, if we would’ve gotten some stuff, the, Hey, talk about it, it may have helped it didn’t. And it didn’t for a bunch of calls that were the same way.
Stack: So how do you start to see this play out in your life in professional life or personal life?
Chris: So at that point I’ve separated everything so well that now I am. I’m pretty much in my professional life, a hundred percent of the time, my, my outside life, my private life, my personal life, the one I’m supposed to have fun. And the one I’m supposed to release is gone.
Stack: What was, what did that look like?
What were you in a relationship at the time or were you single? Explain that to me real quick.
Chris: I was married before got out of that relationship. I was at work so much and in that work mode so much that I lacked on other things at the house. It led to a divorce after seven or eight years, seven years actually that led to a divorce because I was so invested in work that I didn’t see what was going on at the house.
And I wasn’t there. I had the money I gave her everything she wanted, but I wasn’t there mentally and physically, I was gonna
Stack: say, so everything you felt that she wanted, at least it was the tangible the items you can hold in your hand the goods, but not really the emotion you were giving.
Chris: So my ex-wife went out and she found the emotion with other people that hurt led to our divorce. After that relationship after relationship, I was still in that work mode. I separated because again, divorce that’s trauma, too. That just adds up to it. So I’m work mode all the time. And the question was asked why can’t I just relax?
Why can’t I just be me? Why does it have to be, why does it have to be, you’re not happy all the time. You’re not. Having fun. Because I’m stuck. Yeah. And if I were to let loose and open up, I’m afraid all this other stuff might come out. I don’t know how to be normal, not being a normal for a long time, if that makes sense.
And that makes total sense. So yeah, multiple relationships, they lasted each one probably a year or two years. And one that I I got triggered on was the relationship before I, the one I have now, my ex fiancee, I had given up so much of my personal life being disconnected that I didn’t know good from.
I didn’t know if it was positive or negative, that kind of thing on anything. I had to get that information from other people.
Stack: So you had to have had, pardon me? I’m struggling how to frame this question. Anything, so you say good or bad in anything so emotional, physical or anything. So you had to rely on someone’s reaction or for them to actually say, Hey, no, that’s bad.
Chris: Exactly. Actually both of ’em. Okay. Reactions and a verbal like this is good. Y’all are good. Y’all are happy together. This is awesome. I’m proud of you. Good job. I got you because I didn’t know that, that I didn’t know that emotion. I had to go off other people. So with my ex-fiance I met her in the ER, so I met her at work.
She was a tech a technician. She was later a paramedic on a truck. The same company I worked for again, a work relationship, everybody around me. Hey y’all are a great match. Y’all are good together. This is I’m happy. This is great. Oh, I’m like, oh, this is great. Okay, cool. This is what I’m supposed to do.
This is the emotion I’m supposed to be feeling, but inside I was disconnected from all. So I went in that direction and that everybody else was telling me was a good direction because that’s what I should be doing. That’s how disconnected I was. That disconnection and those emotions. My family would say that her family would say that our friends that we have together would say this.
So that lasted for a couple of years up until I proposed to her because that’s what other people had said that needs to happen. That’s it’s time for. Basically. Yeah. It’s because
Stack: that’s what everyone says you should do.
Chris: That’s what’s normal. That’s what’s happening. That’s your next step now? I can’t say I didn’t have feelings for my ex-fiance cuz I I cared for her.
I it’s obvious attracted to her. We were in a relationship together, that kind of thing, but everything was moving further because of how other people were reacting to me. She still means a lot to me. And I know she played a big part in my life, but I didn’t even recognize what was inside, what I actually felt about her.
And you know how they say that you love somebody, but you’re not in love with somebody. Yes. So I didn’t see that until it was
Stack: too late. I have to guess it also becomes, I don’t know for searching for a phrase, but I guess the best phrase I could use is just a self-fulfilling prophecy. So you’re telling yourself I’m supposed to be here.
I’m supposed to love, I’m supposed to love him. So you force yourself into that feeling.
Chris: Exactly. And I can only imagine if she would listen to this episode of how she would feel that’s gotta be hurting and bad for the soul hearing this information. And I let her know that there was this disconnect when we were splitting up, but that split up and I’m the bad person on this one.
I take the responsibility for this because I should have said something. I should have seen something, but a month before our actual wedding date, I had to back. and I stepped away from that engagement and that marriage,
Stack: , what triggered the stepping away
Chris: that was triggered by.
And how can I say it? An overflow of all that bad stuff that now went into my everyday life
Stack: as in your work life,
Chris: my work life, the stuff that I was keeping under control, the stuff that I was holding back from, the family’s yelling in the background, Hey, do something for this, do something for my family.
They’re dying. What are you doing? CPR, anything and everything. I was here in the background was going in there while all that fell over into my work life now. So now my personal and my work life were hell and I experienced a nervous and mental breakdown. While I was at work on shift in the bays of my fire department.
Stack: How does that get
Chris: handled that that gets handled by lieutenants. Noticing me going to my lieutenants and saying I can’t function. I can’t do, I can’t do anything. I couldn’t even drive. At this point. I was not focusing on anything. I was scatterbrained and I had to go to my administrative staff, my chiefs I can’t do this anymore.
I had a mental breakdown there. I’m flipping out. I don’t know what to do. They called one of our firefighters over who is a mental health counselor fire department. And that person got me in touch with. A program at the university of central Florida, the UCF restores program, and got on the phone with one of their counselors right away.
It was like a hotline number, told them what was going on. My chiefs were very supportive in everything and put me on admin duty instead of put me on the line, which is what they’re supposed to do. And they put me in the admin and they kept me on admin for a good four months or so while I was getting treatment.
Stack: just simply amazing to me.
Chris: Oh, I, I don’t know any other department that would’ve my other department that I work for. The one that I had, those bad calls with the majority of all my trauma. Would’ve never done that. They would’ve let me go. I know at least four other paramedics who had this trauma who had breakdowns, who had.
Been fired from this company because they couldn’t handle it. Alright. You’re out. This department stood behind me. They made sure that I was able to get treatment from UCF. I had a ride to get there. They gave me the chief’s vehicles, even the SUVs to drive back and forth to UCF to my department. I couldn’t ask for a better support system.
Stack: That’s in a word that’s stunning, to be honest with you. And it’s amazing so that you were blessed with that. I
Chris: was definitely blessed that was one of the things that saved my life, because if I didn’t have that support and I was just shun or okay, you’re fired, I would be dead. And I know that.
So let’s talk about
Stack: restores. That’s a, this one was new to me when we first spoke. So why don’t you give a, I don’t know, in depth, we don’t need to go too in depth. Give a little synopsis of what restores is.
Chris: So restores is a program that is done for military police firefighters in one of any of the professional services.
And if you have trauma or you have anything that’s a stressor in your life, you could talk to UCF stores and they’ll either help you through a situation over the phone. Find places where you can go to get help have a program inside the school where you go to ’em once, twice or three times a week and you get treatment, which is the one I received.
And then there’s another one where you can live on campus and you’re there with groups and you’re doing group meetings. The one I was in is one that I showed up two and three times a week. to get my treatment. And it was something that pretty much put me back in and balance with everything before it was all trauma.
It was all professional stuff. It gave me back my normal life, my everyday life by all the bad stuff that was replaying in my head over and over again, like those, even those couple of calls to just not worry about those things would keep me up. I’d have nightmares. And it stopped after going with these treatments.
Stack: So you said desensitizing or desensitization how do they do it?
Chris: So you speak about your top three or. Traumatic calls the ones that keep you up. Those nightmares those really bad ones, the ones that are ever present, man ever present all the time. When you speak it, people are like, whoa, what happened?
Stack: We all have a couple of those. I think not all many of us have a couple of those.
Chris: You have your stories, everybody’s got your stories and you wanna be the best one at the table when you’re telling a story, unfortunately,
Stack: You’ve hit the nail on the head right there.
Chris: Everybody’s gotta Trump, somebody.
And I always seem to be the guy who trumped everybody on that, on those not a good thing, but yeah. So you tell ’em your stories and they write it down next day and you could feel your heart rate going up too. Your blood pressure, you can feel everything. It’s just uneasy. The first one you go into the second one, you do the exact same thing.
He writes down, you’re sale your story. He writes it down. That keeps going for a first. First few of them, after that he’s got a log or a narrative basically of that call. And every day that you go in, it gets more and more in depth. So at one point he’s okay, we’re gonna change this up and we’re going to make this real.
So he sits me in a chair. He puts a dark mask over my face, headphones on my ears. He puts me in a chair that can move I’m next to a machine that has different smells and it could be smoke or grass or dirt and stuff like that. And it would pump out some of that stuff. So now that narrative, that I’ve written that now I’ve got these specific details in.
They have, and he repeats it. I tell the story. and everything is visually. I could see it there. It’s like it’s happening in front of me, even to the point. Now they have the VR goggles that you could put on your face and the narrative that you had said over those few times, meeting the students and the faculty write this narrative into a computer program.
And then you see a VR, what place does this? This is crazy, but it’s working after around three or four months. Now, when I’m telling the story, it’s tiring to tell the story. It’s exhausting because I’m going so much in detail and I’m getting the real life stuff. That’s all around me. Like the senses and stuff like that are coming up play.
So it makes it even more real. And it’s now not stressing me out. It’s not bothering me. All of a sudden there was a click. This hasn’t affected me. I’m having better sleep. I’m re I’m having fun outside of going to work. What just happened, all of those things that they were doing connected and it put my brain back together and reprogrammed it to make me normal, make me have emotions to make me feel.
And even then it wasn’t quite there. So they would tell me, look, you still have a lot of work and you’re always gonna have to deal with this. You’re always going to be a little behind on, on maybe normal life, but you need to make sure that you say that you’re happy if you’re happy. If you feel it, you say something? Yes. If I’m sad, I know I’m sad. If I feel this is bad or if something’s troubling me, I say that emotion out loud. So I hear it out loud. I recognize it. I say it, and I have that emotion. So I’m putting one in one together to make it to, yes. That took a lot of work. And even now, today, I still have to do that family members and friends.
They know that if I’m gonna say something out loud, that means I’m having trouble connecting with it. And I need to reconnect that
Stack: way. So to saying it out loud, make it real
Chris: for you. It makes it real and it makes it present. Like I don’t have to have somebody else tell me, okay, this is what’s going on.
If it’s something that I feel needs to be sad, then it’s sad. I’m gonna tell ’em angry. if I don’t have that sometimes now it’s sometimes before it was like all the time. I didn’t know what was, what I wasn’t feeling it. Now it’s I can go, I can get away with now. I have those emotions. I feel good.
I count have a counselor. I see every three months medications and stuff like that, that help me of focus. And I have a relationship right now that she’s been through some trauma stuff and coming out with all of my baggage and everything up front to have her look, if you’re gonna be with me, you’re gonna deal with this.
This is what my life is a big thing. I can still disconnect. I can shut everything off, like a light switch and not have any emotions whatsoever. And it’s only happened. Once that I know of maybe twice where I shut everything and off I become cold and distant, no emotions, no facial expressions, nothing.
I am cold. And she saw that. I remember this one time and it lasted God three or four days. She thought we were gonna break up. I was so distant and cold. She didn’t know who I was. That was the person I was for years. No one knew who I really was. That those relationships I had were fake to me, fake relationships.
They didn’t know who I really was now that I can recognize this. I do it, but just to be able to switch off everything, it that’s scary, man. That’s. That just shows that I, that it’s still not done. That it’s still something I am working on. People shouldn’t be able to do that.
Stack: No people shouldn’t. I don’t wanna say they shouldn’t be able to do it because I think many of us can do it.
And I wanna say it makes us, special because we can, but I think it’s a mechanism that we use and it just, some of us yourself included and maybe me to, to a certain point use it, overuse it, and it becomes a default. And that and I wouldn’t say that we shouldn’t use it.
There are some situations where we shouldn’t overuse it in my opinion.
Chris: Yeah. I, to me. Seeing how I was back then. I don’t ever want to see that. I don’t ever want to have to be able to go back to that. But having some triggers that still affect you today it bugs me because I’ve worked so hard to get to where I’m at and even the counselors and the doctors and everybody and UCF calls back and makes sure as I’m okay all the time. And I’m good. I feel good. But I still have that. I can go backwards. So that kind of scares me afterwards. Right now. I have the support system.
I have family, I have coworkers, all my coworkers, all the other firefighters, they know what happened and they’re supportive of me, but what happens say five years, right? I retire I’m out now. I don’t have that support structure anymore. I don’t have those friends all the way around me. I don’t, I won’t be able to process is that now gonna trigger me into doing something after I’m done with the fire department?
Stack: I think the fact that you’re cognizant of it is the win right now. Because you’re aware of it. You’re going into, you’ll go into that situation, knowing that you need to take care of yourself and knowing that you don’t want to be that person. Yeah.
Chris: That is where I’m at now. I wasn’t there.
So if I didn’t have that, then right now going through all this stuff, if I didn’t say anything and that tipping point didn’t happen, maybe that tipping point was the stresses of getting married, all the stuff that went into it, all the work stuff, new job stuff with the fire department, new positions.
All that stuff triggered that and it came out. Thank God. It did come out because I don’t know what would’ve happened if I didn’t have that trigger and that breakdown, if I didn’t mentally, I could think, okay, I’d be in a relationship that I don’t need to be in. I wouldn’t be happy. I would be in a job.
That’s making things worse. Next thing you know, that retirement time comes around and I don’t have any support structures. I know a lot of retirees and a lot police officers, firefighters, EMS, that’s done bad things after they’ve gotten done with their careers because they didn’t have that support structure.
I have it now because of UCF Restores because of my chiefs, because of my fire department, because of my family. But if I didn’t have any of that stuff and that nervous breakdown didn’t happen. , I would be one of those statistics and I know that,
Stack: but it did happen and you went through some intense fucking therapy. You came out the other side and what’s life look like right now.
Chris: Life is great, man. And my life is saved, I have a relationship with a woman that is, is awesome. She helps me deal with my bad days. I help her deal with her bad days.
She has a son we’re putting him through through school and everything else at a, an academy, I’m what they call a bonus Dad . And that makes me feel good because one, I can’t be a dad. Because the whole thing at 15, when I had to go into a bag, that kind of thing. All those specimens and everything got used on my ex-wife and it didn’t work and all this kind of stuff, but I lost that ability to have to be an, a father I feel like I am a father figure in this kid’s life. And it means a lot to me and I will do whatever I possibly can to make sure he has a good life. So that’s the stuff my dad taught me. I can instill in him a little, he’s not my son, but he is, by blood. But he is in every other way.
So that makes me happy. I have a job that I love. I couldn’t ask for anything better. I love what I do. I love helping people. I relate a lot to the cancer patients and stuff like that. When people are sick or hurting, I’m like, Hey, I got you. I know what you feel. I can relate better now. I didn’t have that before.
I was so cold back then that I was surprised even I had friends. I, because I was so cold, I’ve got friends now I’ve got a life. I didn’t have a life before I was very closed off.
Stack: I was gonna say, we’re sitting in the house of a mutual friend right now. So yeah, maybe you would not have met him before.
I definitely wouldn’t have met him before. And yeah, so that’s the best outcome we can hope for. I think so is where you’re at right now.
Chris: I am in a great spot. I love my life. Like I said, I have everything I ever wanted. This is where I belong. This is what I’m, this is what I’m doing for my life.
And I couldn’t see any place else. I would rather be
Stack: with that being said, I’m gonna get onto the last two questions I have for you. and I think we discussed him when we had our phone call the couple weeks, man. Has it been a couple weeks already? I think it has. Yeah, it’s been a bit. I always ask someone about an everyday carry being the reason being, because I called the show, the things we all carry, being a firefighter, being a paramedic, you carry stuff into a call.
You’re gonna carry your aid bag. You’re gonna carry a stethoscope. You’re gonna carry a set of irons if it’s a fire, but you’re gonna carry something out of that call. We all do. We all take something away from a call. I don’t care how mundane or how boring that call is. We take something out of a call.
Those things affect us, but we also carry something with us every day. I don’t know for me, it’s a, it’s sometimes it’s most of the time, it’s the skulls for hope bracelet I have on my wrist. It’s just a reminder. Actually lately, because I’ve been in therapy, my everyday carry, if you want something to laugh about, are the acupuncture beads that are on the backs of my ears, because they’re always on my ears after every session.
So what’s something you carry with you every day.
Chris: So that is actually in the fire service everybody has tattoos, it seems but yes, over that time of me having to go through all my pain and the trauma, I started getting tattoos, white arms parents hate it, family members, like, why are you doing this?
So one side of my arm, whole entire sleeve is done up with bits and pieces of my trauma that happened in my life. Okay. So everything from arch angel Gabriel going into the time clock on my arm, which is the time I was born. To the Lord’s prayer on my sleeve underneath is St. Christopher, everything on my arm, the scroll, everything is bits and pieces that had my trauma.
The hourglass in the back is the time I have left in life. It’s too short. Time is fleeting. The army is going by. So everything on this arm represents a something that happened and it took over a year to get this sleeve done on this side. The other side is a sleeve of every place I’ve been and where I come from it’s got my hometown in Louisiana.
It’s my anchor that is keep me grounded. I’ve got my compass here that matches the same compass that my now fiance gave me for a birthday present, took that same compass. I had my tattoo artist take a picture of it. He put that on my arm, every bit of pieces on my arms. that’s what I carry every day.
I see it every day. It reminds me of something the struggle and everything I’ve done.
Stack: Do you know the name? Dr. David Griffin? It sounds familiar. We all know the next thing I’m gonna say the Charleston nine. Okay.
Stack: He was the first in engine driver for the Charleston nine. He is one of his books.
He’s a very interesting, fascinating guy. And I’m actually gonna be, he’s gonna, he’s gonna grant me the time to sit with him and talk to him in about a week then I can’t wait for it. Yeah, that’s awesome. But he wrote a book called tattoos and trauma. And as soon as you said that, I pulled it up on the computer, cuz I’ll share it with you, but it’s a great book.
And it, it does just that, what you’ve just described is what his book is about. He talks about the healing power of tattoos for first responders and trauma victims. And so I think he nailed it right. There was exactly what he’s trying to encapsulate in that book.
Chris: I’m gonna have to read that book. I have I didn’t even know he did sounded familiar, but I didn’t recognize the name.
Stack: He’s got first of all, just being that first in engine driver on Charleston nines the super sofa fire is enough, but everything else he’s done and how he’s overcome all that is a fascinating story. Alright. So that’s your everyday, Carrie, and I love it. What’s a book you would recommend from people and you can’t pick tattoos from trauma by the way, cuz I gave that one away.
Chris: That would’ve been my first one. you didn’t even
Stack: know about it. Don’t even try that shit.
Chris: Oh man. I I don’t have a book. Do you have all
Stack: right. Let’s not everybody has a book. Let’s go with a person people might know about some music. Do you enjoy anything that you wanna share with people?
Chris: So music wise I like that’s music, Chris Stapleton’s music. Okay. That kind of music is just and just his voice and some other directions he goes relates well to me.
That was a big big thing. When I was going through all the bad stuff and going through the therapy, his music they hit home and it made me feel better, Randy, Travis, that, that music I’ve loved since I was a boy. And even now, today I can hear it and it makes me feel good. And he’s going through a lot.
He had the whole stroke thing. He’s still having issues. He can’t even sing, but a couple of verses now but his music helps me out. If you look at hotel, California from the Eagles, man, love the Eagles, but hotel California, if I listen to that song instantly mellows me out.
and I can take on anything with hotel California. That’s long specifically, because when I was a kid, anytime I had a spinal tap, anytime I had a bone marrow test done getting into that ball at the time, there wasn’t any type of like sedative. You had locals, but that’s it, that music would come on and I would hear have it hear headphones on instantly put me in a different place.
It does that today. All
Stack: right. That’s gonna be the one I’ll link to in the show notes then. All right. And I’ll find a good Chris Stapleton one as well. And I’ll put something in the show notes about that, dude. Thank you very much. You’re welcome, man. This was this was a great story.
Chris: I’m glad I was able to, tell it, my docs and everybody always said that, you may be uncomfortable.
It may be hard to deal with. It may be hard to talk about, but that’s the only way you can get through it is if you talk about it, you have to have that out. so this is first I’m on a podcast and it was definitely different, but I did it right. Oh, you did a hell.
Stack: You did a hell of a job, man. I appreciate it.
Thank you very much. You’re welcome. All right. We’re out.