Volunteers' Week 2021: This hospital didn’t save my life, they gave me a life - Jack Carter, RD&E Volunteer

7 Jun 2021

To mark the end of Volunteers' Week 2021 (1-7 June), we're sharing Jack Carter's story. From June 2020 to June 2021, he has put in an incredible 1,306 hours of volunteering!

Half my working life I spent in junior management working for Caterpillar, the market leader in construction equipment plant hire. They are an American company with a brilliant attitude towards training their staff. Most of the skills I’ve got come from all the training I did while with them. The second half of my career was in the building industry.

When I was a teenager my one desire was to join the Navy. However, when I went for the medical I was told “You ain’t going anywhere Jack! You need to have an operation on your ears,” It turned out that the bones in my ears were being eaten away by the chickenpox germ. I was told I would in time become completely deaf, however, the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RD&E) managed to salvage 60% of my hearing through several operations. Mr Weiner, the current Audiology Consultant, completed the work on my ears in about the year 2000.

If I had gone completely deaf I wouldn’t have been able have the successful career that I had, neither would I have had the successful marriage that I had for over 55 years. And that’s why I often tell people: ‘This hospital didn’t save my life, they gave me a life.’

My wife was diagnosed with bowel cancer which was sadly terminal but she was looked after wonderfully and I can’t fault the treatment the RD&E gave her. When I retired I not only wanted to volunteer here to repay the treatment that I had had but the treatment my late wife had had too.

I come in 5 days a week from 6.45am to 11.30am, Monday to Friday, depending on the workload and sometimes at the weekend as well to sort out the wheelchairs. I get so much satisfaction in being able to help people in whatever way I can. It’s such a satisfying experience. I call myself the RD&E’s Chief Gofer because I’ve got an eclectic role – I’m available to do anything that’s not medical – I go for stuff, I collect stuff, I meet and greet, I start the day meeting, greeting and escorting the orthopaedic, admissions and Knapp Ward patients coming in for operations because at 6.45am there are no reception staff on duty. I started off with Surgical Outpatients 5 years ago and then picked up errands for Fracture Clinic and it all expanded from there. I’ve got to know so many members of staff that I’m often stopped and people say ‘Hey, Jack, I’ve got a job for you’.

When I was working for the American company I learned the importance of mission statements. Whenever we were in a management meeting discussing an issue and we veered off topic one of us could just point to the mission statement on the wall to remind us to get back on track. I’ve used that analogy all my life and have realised that my mission statement volunteering for the RD&E is ‘make every person’s visit to the RD&E as positive and pleasant as possible’ (and having all the P’s makes this a memorable phrase).

Last summer, in the lead up to my 80th birthday, I had my suspicions that something was brewing in Surgical Outpatients. I would never have believed just how wonderful a celebration they put on for me. I received so many lovely presents and good wishes that I was absolutely overwhelmed. It was, without a doubt, the best birthday I had ever had. As I was aware something was afoot, I had had a little speech prepared. I shared with them how I had googled what day of the week my 90th would be and was pleased to discover it was a weekday and had written myself a post-it note with the date saying ‘RD&E as usual’ which I have stuck on my fridge to remind me.

A photo of Jack rounding up wheelchairs (he can push 4 at a time!), a photo of the reminder on Jack's fridge, and a photo of Jack with his Exceptional Service Award

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