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Housekeeper's 'beautiful' melodies help soothe souls at NC Cancer Hospital

Posted November 25, 2015 6:15 p.m. EST
Updated November 25, 2015 6:51 p.m. EST

— Shawn Davis doesn't have a degree, and he doesn't practice medicine.

But if you visit the fourth floor of the North Carolina Cancer Hospital in Chapel Hill, you'll see – and hear – the effects of the housekeeper's work.

"You can actually often hear him coming before you see him, which is nice," nurse Haley Chaney said.

Davis started working at the hospital in 2014, and it wasn't long before he was soothing souls at the same time he scrubbed floors.

"A lot of these patients don't know what the outcome will be when they come here," Davis said. "And so my job, I think, is to do whatever I can to brighten up their day...to get them to a place they don't lose hope."

Davis' melodies are working.

"Well, it always lightens me," Burl Hull, a patient's husband, said. "I mean, it can be a pretty downer place here, and to have him come in."

Annie Jones, a patient from Halifax County who had a bone marrow transplant two weeks ago, called Davis' voice "beautiful."

"It's just the way he comes in and greets you," she said.

Davis isn't sure how many patients he's sang to, but what matters, at least in the moments he interacts with them, is that they don't think about their pain. They are focused on Davis and his music.

"It makes everyone a little happier – a lot happier, actually," Chaney said. "It puts them in better spirits, helps their outlook remain positive and focus on getting out of here."

Davis said he wants people to feel the music more than hear it.

"When people listen to music, people think they like what they hear. They really like what they feel," he said. "Every patient, at some point, if they stay here, we have a song. We have a moment together."

The 39-year-old Davis came to Chapel Hill after working for New York City's transit department. Aside from working at the hospital, he's also taking online classes to earn a degree in psychology.

"I could've taken many other jobs, but I just feel like this is where I belong," he said.

Since arriving, Davis has helped start the Environmental Services Choir, a group made up of hospital housekeeping staff.

The group will perform from noon to 2 p.m. on Dec. 5 at University Mall in Chapel Hill. The group will also perform at UNC's Children's Hospital on Dec. 23.