Meeting “Big John”

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I first became aware of Big John when someone posted a thread on our community Facebook page about their visit to our local freestanding Emergency Room. There were SO many heartwarming stories about this man who works there and how he goes above and beyond to make people, both children and adults, feel more at ease in the scariest of situations. The numerous posts went on to praise his caring and gentle demeanor and the excellent care that he provides. He touches many people and is truly an inspiration. I knew I had to meet him.

I reached out to John and we picked a date that following week. We met for breakfast one morning and I finally had my chance to meet this amazing man and to ask him a few questions.

What is your full name? John Wayne “Big John” Savage

How did you get the nickname Big John? “It came when I took care of Joe Biden’s mom, Jean Biden. I drew blood from her and she said, ‘You’re a big guy for a nurse. They ought to call you Big John.’ And that name stuck with me ever since.”

Describe your family. John’s father died when he was 10 years old. Being the only male in the house, he stepped up to help his mother with the household and caring for his two younger sisters. His uncle also stepped in when his dad passed away and was a big influence on his life. John has two daughters, two sons and a 3 year-old grandson.

What is your occupation? What peaked your interest in that field? “I always liked taking care of people and hated to see people sick and hurting. I put myself through school for nursing, EMT, and phlebotomy. I used to watch Patch Adams and remember how Robin Williams’ character healed people, not only through medicine, but also with laughter.”

John believes that laughter is the best medicine. His goals are to make people laugh and to make them comfortable when they come into his facility. He’s been employed at Christiana Care for the past 30 years, since he was 18 years old, and is an Emergency Nurse Technician.

What do you love about your job? “I love people. You know you’re doing your job when you see a person smile and saying thank you and giving you a hug…a total stranger giving you a hug, inviting you to dinner. You know you’re doing your part. It means a lot when you see people like that.”

What are some challenges of your job? “You get challenges all the time, like a new president comes with a different work ethic or people are jealous of what you do, but you look past that. You do what you have to do and you move on.”

Describe a difficult time in your life and how you got through it. “When my dad passed and my mom had struggles to raise us. We struggled like most middle class families. We didn’t know where our next meal was coming from and seeing us like that was hard. But as the only male member in the home I had to be strong for my mom and my siblings, so I had to take over that role and I moved on.”

What brings a smile to your face? “Fried chicken, extra crispy and some biscuits.”

What makes you laugh? “I watch a lot of comedy. Just being around family and friends and associates that I can relate to and trust. I know a smile brings a smile to you. You see somebody smile and it reflects on everything. You see a person smile and it shows that person’s personality and a smile goes a long way.”

What saddens you? “The way the world is going today, the economy. I’m hoping one day we’ll have change. I don’t get sad too much. I don’t let too much stuff bother me because I do my own thing and ignore the negativity of other people or things.”

What fills your heart with joy? “The Lord. Without Him there wouldn’t be me. The things I’ve got and my accomplishments wouldn’t be without Him.”

What are you most proud of achieving? “My kids.”

Looking ahead, what are some things you still would like to achieve? “More schooling to advance in my job, so I want to get the education that I need to advance and achieve greatness.”

What is something people would be surprised to know about you? “I’m an African American and I own three race horses: Will Unbridled, OnePlayfulLady, and Temptation Song are my horses.”

Six and half years ago John was caring for a woman who was suffering from cancer. She needed someone to help take care of her horses. He left her his information and after she was discharged, she contacted him. John helped with the stalls and was then offered the opportunity to be part owner of some of her horses. After talking it over with his wife at the time, he decided to go ahead and give it a try. His very first race won him $20,000.

What one piece of advice would you give to young people? “Keep going. Keep soaking in all of the knowledge you can like a sponge. Soak in your education and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Stay away from negativity and achieve your goals. Keep rising. Keep rising.”

If you won $1,000,000, what would you do with it? “Half of it I would save. The other half I would use to invest in research for cancer and diabetes. You could do a lot with that and help other people with it.”

What would you like to see less of in this world? “Racism”

What would you like to see more of in this world? “People working together, getting along, loving each other as brothers and sisters, and hope. You gotta be hopeful.”

How do you feel about all of the appreciative compliments that you receive? “It’s good, but that’s just my personality. I’m going to be who I am regardless. I appreciate the people complimenting me for different things, but when you do things to help people out and it goes noticed, it feels good. I’ve been doing this for many years. It’s not like I’m just doing because it’s my job, no. I do it because I feel that the patient and their loved ones need my attention at that particular time. They’re already scared because they’re in the hospital. As a healthcare worker, you want to make sure that they’re getting the best care possible and the family members. I go above and beyond my job to make sure they’re happy.”

How do you want people to remember you? “My greatness. My personality. That sums it all up.”

What else would you like to share with people? “Everyone come together in peace, get along, break bread together, love each other, fry chicken together.”

Hope’s Thoughts: A few things that I will remember about my time with Big John are his laugh, his sense of humor and his natural ability to connect with strangers. He and our waiter interacted as though they were lifelong friends, though they had never met before that day. John’s spirit is so lively and magnetic, that you can’t help but to smile when you are around him. His kind and caring nature inspires me to have that same impact on everyone I interact with. It was my absolute pleasure to meet, talk and share a meal with Big John.