Life and Death in times of COVID

A few weeks ago, I told you about my Dutch colleague Jolanda Bayens. She is the founder and director of the Voice Over College, and one of Holland’s most in-demand voices. Jolanda is also a registered nurse, but she hasn’t practiced in twenty-six years.

When the Corona virus hit her region hard, she felt she had to do something to help, and she offered to go back to nursing. After Jolanda’s first story was published, people kept checking in with me to find out how she’s doing.

This is her update:

It’s a gorgeous sunny day in May. The highway is a bit busier than last week. As I’m driving, I start thinking about the things I have to do, tomorrow. One of those jobs is a voice over recording, a medical animation to be exact. I’m grateful that most of my customers still know where to find me, even in these testing times. 

There’s also lots of planning to do for my training institute, the voice over college. Thank goodness my guest teachers are incredibly flexible. Meanwhile, the lockdown seems to get more relaxed in the Netherlands. We’re allowed to get out a bit more, emphasis on “a bit.” When I pass an electronic message board, I’m being warned not to unwind in a nearby nature reserve as they’re expecting record crowds this weekend.

Half an hour has passed when I park my car in the parking lot of the nursing home. Because I’m working in a COVID-19 ward, I’m not allowed to use the regular staff entrance. My colleagues and I have to enter through the mortuary. Different doors that only open when I enter the correct code, take me to the stairwell. I walk up the stairs, and I consciously take a deep breath in and out, pushing the door open.

I have arrived. 

PROTECTING OURSELVES

Jolanda Bayens

As a temp nurse I work on different COVID-19 wards. Today I go to a floor that has been hit very hard. My colleague and I (it’s just the two of us because they couldn’t find an additional nurse for this shift), get into our protective suits. We put on gloves, face masks, and safety goggles. During our shift we cannot leave this ward and we’re responsible for nine demented people. Only one of them is not infected with the Corona virus.

That one person happens to be stretching his legs as I walk in. He has no idea where he is or what he’s doing There’s no one to stop him and his family is not allowed to come in. He is terrified and keeps asking what he is supposed to do. I feel guilty because I can’t really help him.

During the day shift three people on this floor have passed. Apart from the one “healthy” resident, all others are in bed feeling terribly sick. I can tell one of them hasn’t got long to live. The doctor has been called to administer morphine, which he does. Because we expect that death is near, we call the next of kin. They show up wearing layers of protective clothing.

THE LIVING AND THE DYING

The family members come inside, and we show them to their dad who is fighting for his life. His kids are shocked by what they see and tell their father that it’s okay to let go. But the old man is clinging on. I get goosebumps as I’m fighting back the tears.

We stay a while to explain what the family can and cannot do under these circumstances, and then we continue with our work. One lady in our care is gravely ill, and the rest of the residents are so sick that they don’t want to eat or drink.

Forty-five minutes later the family of the dying man decides to go home. They were only allowed to stay for half an hour, but we gave them some extra time. Every ten minutes my colleague and I stick our heads around the corner to see how the dying man is doing.

When I enter his room around eight, I see that he has passed. He looks totally exhausted. I ask a doctor to call the time of death, while family members contact the undertaker who will take care of the body. Normally, that’s our job, but because of Corona regulations we aren’t allowed to do that. 

FEELING GUILTY

The only thing we can do is carry on. We help people eat and drink, we give them medications, and we clean the residents up. We take their temperature and blood pressure, and we measure their oxygen level. We continue to do so until the end of our shift.

In the car, on my way back, I feel guilty because I wasn’t able to give my patients the care they so desperately deserve and need. When I try to brush that uncomfortable feeling away, I suddenly notice how thirsty I am. Walking around in those protective suits feels like being in a sauna, and with only two nurses on duty, there wasn’t enough time to even take a sip of water.

I turn on the radio to listen to the news. The number of people with COVID-19 being admitted to hospitals has gone down again, and the numbers at the ICU’s are decreasing as well. But once again, no one is mentioning anything about nursing homes. It is as if we do not exist.

The news reader continues: at the main railway station in Amsterdam, police officers and railway officials had to be deployed to manage the enormous flow of travelers heading for the beach resort of Zandvoort. Forget social distancing. Getting an early tan and emptying a six pack of Heineken is much more important. 

I’m finally home. I get out of my car and take a deep breath.

It’s time to go inside.

My voice over studio awaits.

Jolanda Bayens

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About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs."

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, Personal

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