‘I’m inspired every day’: how one Colfax nurse is handling COVID-19

MADYSEN MCLAIN, Evergreen roots editor

B.J. Oja spends her days and nights on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

She works as a medical-surgical nurse at the Whitman Hospital and Medical Clinics and is among the thousands of healthcare workers in Washington. 

B.J. works the night shift. She changes out of her scrubs, takes a shower at the hospital and often stays the night there to protect her family waiting for her back home.

“I’m inspired every day with people’s willingness to do what they can including doing a pretty good job on social distancing even though they don’t want to,” she said.

B.J. has been a nurse for almost six years, she said. She works in the emergency room department and same-day surgery department on occasion.

Nursing was not B.J’s first career. Before she attended WSU’s nursing school, B.J. said she worked for United Airlines in the passenger customer service department. 

Her own experience of being a patient inspired her to become a nurse. About 10 years ago, she went in to have her appendix removed. What was supposed to be a simple, one-day surgery turned into an eight-day hospital stay, B.J. said.

“Out of the many nurses that took care of me in hospital, there were a few that when they walked through my door I thought, ‘Oh thank goodness that you’re here,’” she said. “I just wanted to be that for somebody.”

In addition to B.J.’s work at the hospital, she works three days a week for three different school districts in Whitman County as a nurse. She said she is able to do most of the work for the school from home during this time. 

When the schools prepare and deliver lunches for students, B.J. along with the administration, implemented a screening tool for employees coming to the school. This included taking the employee’s temperature and asking them questions, B.J. said.

When she is not working at the hospital, she spends her time playing games with her two children or sprucing up their recently-purchased home.

Her husband, Levi Oja, works as an estimator for LaRiviere Inc. in Rathdrum, Idaho. The state of Idaho considers him an essential worker, but he is able to work from home. 

“We are making sure that [B.J. is] prepared so she can go help when needed. We also help out by cleaning and staying home so that we don’t give her the virus either,” he said. “We use the power of prayer a lot.”

He said they have two children who are both at home from college. Their daughter, Avery, is a senior at Eastern Washington University and their son, Dylan, is a freshman at Central Washington University. 

Levi said the family has three horses they care for, ride and train. 

“Horses are very good therapy,” he said. “They always look forward to seeing you every day.”

B.J. said her family has expressed concern for her being at the hospital but she takes as many precautions as she can, including disinfecting her car, clothes, bags, keys and shoes before going home.

Extra safety precautions are now a part of everything they do on a day-to-day basis at home, she said. At the hospital, her managers and management teams brief the staff and keep them updated on the current situation.

“As with most things, what you don’t know is often scarier than what you do know,” she said.