TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Baron O’Field is about to turn 32, and while he normally works behind the scenes as a certified surgical technologist, he is currently a door screener.
O'Field has been tasked with making sure anyone entering Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital does not have a temperature or symptoms of COVID-19.
Knowing everyone’s experiences are different, O’Field stressed he is not speaking as a representative of Hastings.
“They are shifting nurses to other departments and they are being cross-trained, so when this hits, people will know what to do,” said O’Field. “Everybody’s learning new roles. We’re helping fill the void when needed.”
As a certified surgical technologist, or scrub nurse, O’Field usually gets things set up for surgeries and assists the doctors and staff with operations.
The 2007 Sequoyah High School graduate had planned to return to Northeastern State University to finish his degree when he learned about the Hastings surg tech program.
“I researched it and thought it was interesting. I’ve been doing it ever since; I never looked back,” he said.
After graduating from the program in 2013, O’Field went straight to work at Hastings – the hospital in which he was born. At the end of 2014, he left to be a contractor with a traveling company. He traveled to other states for that until the end of 2016.
“My family is from here, and I wanted to apply skills I had learned on the road at Hastings,” he said. “I see people I grew up with and know. It’s cool to give back to the community in that way.”
Due to the shutdown of elective surgeries in the state, O’Field hasn't been assisting with many surgeries for the past week.
“It’s interesting being on the front lines,” he said. “I work with people from different departments who I normally don’t see. It’s interesting seeing the camaraderie with everybody working together. It’s really good teamwork.”
He said those coming into the facility have been understanding about new protocols, including the limit on visitors and the need for social distancing.
“We have to explain that although you want to come in and support your family or friends, it’s not just for the patient’s safety; it helps protect you,” said O’Field. “We’re not trying to be mean or hateful; we’re trying to look out for everyone.”
One aspect O’Field is not used to is hearing gratitude from the public. He usually hears it from nurses or doctors he works with.
“It’s nice to hear people say, ‘Thank you’ and they want you to be safe. They are thankful for what we do,” he said.
O’Field believes there will always be a need for health care workers.
“People always need to be helped, and people are stepping up to help. That’s cool to see,” he said. “Everybody is trying to be brave and be diligent in what they do.”
So far, O’Field hasn’t had to worry about having the proper equipment to use and wear on the job.
“We’re given what’s needed. There’s always been a supply,” he said. “I wear disposable scrubs, so at the end of the shift, I tear them off and throw them away.”
He also wears masks and a face shield each shift, and wipes down everything.
“We act as if they have it. We take the same precautions for everybody that comes in. We treat everybody the same,” O’Field said. “I’m mindful of what I touch and what the patient may have touched."
While some may be putting on a brave face right now, O’Field said everyone is generally in a good mood.
“As health care workers, we know what we’re getting into,” said O’Field. “When I get to work, I know we are there for the same reason – we’re there to take care of people. That’s what keeps us going.”
He said every employee, from doctors to assistants to janitors to pharmacy techs, is helping fill the void, and all are doing their best to combat COVID-19. All employees also go through the same screening process.
“They ask us the same questions. We see nurses and screeners, too,” said O’Field. “Even going from building to building, we have to make sure we’re being safe.”
O’Field has family in Tahlequah – including his mom; his wife, Tesina, city of Tahlequah administrative office assistant; and their 2-year-old son, Mason. He said his family calls and texts him more often these days.
“My mom calls me every night to ask how I am physically and mentally. They want to make sure I’m not too stressed or am feeling OK,” he said. “I worry about my son sometimes. I take precautions. When I leave the hospital, I make sure I don’t track anything out. I do the best I can.”