In Europe, very few people have heard of Fred Rogers, or Mr. Rogers, as he was known to millions of Americans.
The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show for preschoolers aired from 1968 to 2001, and it continues to run in syndication and on streaming services today. Last year saw the premiere of the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers.
Fred Rogers was an expert at translating the complex adult world in terms kids could understand. His shows are still a resource for parents on talking to children about tragic events such as school shootings and killer viruses.
Rogers is often quoted as saying:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
As the world is dealing with the Corona virus, one of those helpers is a colleague of ours whom I interviewed for this blog not so long ago. She was supposed to come to VO Atlanta, but COVID-19 disrupted her plans. Her name: Jolanda Bayens.
Jolanda is one of Holland’s most prominent voice overs, and the founder and CEO of the Voice Over College, a training institute for voice actors.
Twenty-six years ago, Jolanda was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After her studies she worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. She fell and broke her pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered she had a condition that caused her bones to break very easily and significantly. She was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly.
Today, Jolanda is back in her nurse’s uniform, being one of the helpers. I asked her to tell her story:
DEALING WITH COVID-19
“When the Corona crisis hit the Netherlands, I felt an urge. The urge to help. After all, I am a trained nurse, and taking care of people is not something one easily forgets.
I don’t work in a hospital, but in a place that takes care of the weakest people in our society: a nursing home. In the Netherlands, just like anywhere else, entire wards have been isolated from the outside world because patients have COVID-19. In those wards, a silent disaster is taking place, right under our noses.
I take care of 34 people who suffer from all types of dementia. Most of them aren’t ambulatory anymore. They don’t know who they are, let alone who I am. They’re confused, lonely, and unable to carry on a conversation. They look at you with hollow eyes, and listen with ears that do not understand what’s going on.
These people are bedridden, and one is sicker than the other. The virus is unpredictable. In the morning someone can seem wide awake and alert, and in the afternoon that same person is down with a high fever. Their oxygen level is low, so they’re short of breath. About a third of infected patients won’t make it. Physically, they were already weak, and this virus causes severe pneumonia which is usually the cause of death.
LACK OF PROTECTION AND EQUIPMENT
We have only one oxygen saturation monitor that measures the oxygen level of all 140 patients. There are safety goggles available, but we don’t have enough of them. We really have no idea if we have enough face masks and protective clothing for everyone in the near future. We’re using one face mask and one apron per shift, which is against regulations, but we have no choice. We’re constantly begging for more.
My heart breaks for my patients. Every hour of my shift their condition deteriorates. Because there aren’t enough nurses and the family isn’t allowed to help, I feel like I’m constantly running behind.
As soon as someone is close to death, we call the family. Only one person is allowed in the room with the patient. Most of the time that’s a partner or a child. The rest of the next of kin has to say their goodbyes outside, waiting in front of a window. Fortunately, my section is on the ground floor. Otherwise this wouldn’t even be possible. The person who has been with the patient then has to be self-quarantined.
About half of the permanent staff has chosen not to work on my floor as long as there’s COVID-19. A small group of caregivers is forced to make that choice because their husband, wife, or child is part of a risk group. They fear infection. I do understand that, but I also notice that this causes resentment among the caregivers who are continuing to work on the COVID ward.
All in all I feel frustrated. There aren’t enough caregivers, and those who are working are exhausted. There’s a lack of qualified nurses and we cannot protect our patients or ourselves. The family of the people we care for isn’t always understanding. They get angry and blame us for the infection. That really hurts.
So, why are we continuing to care for our patients, possibly risking our own lives? Because we’re afraid that no one else will help these fragile people who are totally dependent on others. They deserve as much care as anyone else.
I’m afraid that the people I take care of are part of a forgotten group. Small local businesses, however, have not forgotten us. Almost every day they send us flowers and yummy treats which are very much appreciated.
Today, I’m off. That means: I work from home. I do the laundry, I run the house, I cook, and I record voice overs, of course. The show must go on. Thank goodness the projects keep coming in, even though there aren’t as many as in normal times. Tomorrow, after my morning shift in the nursing home, I’m going to rest up a bit. That way I’m ready to teach my beginner voice acting class in the evening.
I want to stress that my fellow nurses and I don’t see ourselves as heroes. We just want to do what we can, because if we don’t, no one else will do it.
It’s all about loving our fellow human beings.
Regardless of who they are, or what state they’e in.”
Jolanda Bayens, voice over/nurse
PS If you’d like to show Jolanda some love, please leave a few words of encouragement in the comments.