For the past seven years, a small blond woman has walked the halls of the 6 East Oncology Unit at Lewis Gale Hospital by day and, sometimes, by night. At 49, she still looks a lot like the young Debbie Reynolds in the 1960s film, “Tammy.” That’s a coincidence because the woman pushing the cleaning cart at LewisGale is Tammy Davidson.
Last month she received a merit award from HHS, the hospital’s environmental services department; not just for cleaning, but for recently receiving fifteen personal notes from patients on the unit who said that she had touched their lives in a profound way.
“Altogether, I’ve gotten about twenty-five letters over the past seven years since I’ve been working at the hospital,” Davidson said. “HHS took over housekeeping in 2007, but I was here before that.”
Davidson said she started working for just over minimum wage and somehow managed to raise three children on her meager salary. She’ll celebrate the holidays this year with her five grandchildren as well.
“When they put me on the oncology unit, I felt like I couldn’t do it at first,” Davidson said, “because it was just too sad, but later I began to see the difference I was able to make just by letting the patients see my heart and by doing small things for them to brighten their days.”
Director of Oncology, Georgine Kamide, said she has worked in hospitals across the country for the past 27 years and has been employed at three major medical centers, but she has never seen a hospital as bright and clean as LewisGale, nor has she ever met an environmental services worker as dedicated as Tammy Davidson.
“Tammy is not just a housekeeper,” Kamide said. “We greatly admire her kindness, her integrity and her professionalism. Other departments have tried in vain to steal her from us, but we’ll never let her go!”
Kamide said that Davidson never comes in without a radiant smile on her face and sincerely asks each and every patient how they are, waiting to hear the answer, while she sets up a breakfast tray or tidies the bedside table.
“I guess I do a lot of little things that are not on my job description,” Davidson said. “But I do it because I really care about these patients and I feel like they are a part of my extended family.”
“Lorrie Clements, Tammy’s supervisor on the floor frees her up to contribute all that she can because Lorrie is such a professional, loving woman herself,” Kamide explained. “I believe that’s why this team of theirs is so unique and wonderful.”
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” RN Lynn Clark said, “Tammy, Lorrie and the environmental services department have created a caring environment that actually sparkles; it’s so clean and makes our patients feel cared for.”
“I started out cleaning in hotels in ’87,” Davidson said, “so I’ve been doing this kind of work a long time, but as the years go along, I’m not as limber as I was and just about my whole body is sore sometimes by the time I leave in the evenings.”
A child of divorce, Davidson helped bring up her brothers and sisters in Tazewell County. She said that may be where she first developed her maternal instincts, but she never had time or money for college.
“I got what was important,” Davidson said. “I realized early on that life and happiness can never be taken for granted; not for a day or even a moment – and that a big heart for people is one of the most important things you can have because it just gets bigger when you give it away.”
One patient’s husband “John” recently sat in the hospital room next to his terminally ill wife in the dim light of early evening. He wanted to say a few words about Davidson:
“My wife has cancer that has spread all over her body, but I have to say that Tammy Davidson has given her a reason to keep pushing. I would give her the ultimate compliment by saying that she is an uplifting person; the kind of person a sick person needs to be around. She has a gift for uplifting your spirits and she uses it. She’s been such a positive presence here that my wife and I both love her.”
“When I started on this unit I began to ask myself what I would do if it were me or someone in my family who was sick,” Davidson said. “Then my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer, so it did hit home.”
One of Davidson’s most poignant memories was witnessing the marriage of a blissful young woman who was wed in her hospital bed on the unit. She reportedly went home for a few weeks, and then passed away.
“I’ve seen so much,” Davidson said. “I’ve seen a lot of tragedy, but I’ve seen miracles too; like the young man who recovered from acute leukemia. But sometimes it’s just the change in someone’s outlook; like the man who was angry and didn’t trust anyone with his sick family member, yet he changed and began to accept the love that he got from me and from the staff here.”
Davison says she has so many stories and memories to share but that one stands out in particular. She had a very special relationship with an older man who was a regular patient on the unit for quite some time. He had no one in the world he said, but he knew he had me. Before he died, he asked to say good-bye.
“I leaned over and touched his face,” “Davidson said, “and my hair brushed his cheek, but he said that it was okay; we both cried.”
Tammy Davidson cries with the patients when they cry, tells old stories and laughs. “Small stuff like stopping to chat a minute, or getting a patient a jug of ice water means so much,” she said. “The main things I’ve learned by working here are that everyone’s important, no matter what they do, so everyone should take pride in that. And the other thing is that it’s so important to tell the people you love that you love them today, because tomorrow may be too late.”
As of this writing Davidson’s prayers for her mother have been answered. She’s in remission. Standing in her favorite pale green room on the ward looking out at the mountains Tammy says, “Look at those hazy, blue mountains from this window at sunset . . . What could be closer to heaven?”