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IN COVID-19 CRISIS:
Voice Actor-Speech Therapist Hellen Moes Helping Coronavirus Patients To Swallow And Speak Again
April 24, 2020

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor, Coach & Author

Do you remember your dreams? I rarely do, but the one I had the other night was on my mind since waking up at 4 am.

It was an almost mystical and comforting experience. Here's why.

In my sleep, a deep, soothing voice instructed me to go to my computer and write a new story for my blog.
"Make sure you give it some thought," the voice said, "because it's going to be your very last blog post. If there's anything you'd like to say to your readers, this is the time to say it."
Once I started typing, the emotional floodgates opened, and line after line started weaving a story filled with love, gratitude, and endless appreciation.

When it was finished, the voice returned and said: "It's time to go. Follow me."

At that moment, my soul left my exhausted body in the hospital bed beneath me. As I floated upward, feeling like a fluffy feather in the wind, I could see the nurses take me off the ventilator, and cover my mortal remains with a white sheet.

It felt perfectly natural. I wasn't scared. I remember being blissfully overwhelmed by a tingling sensation of lightness that I'd never experienced before.

Instinctively I knew that everything was going to be alright. The drop was coming back to the ocean. It was time to go home!

COPING WITH A DEADLY VIRUS

We all deal with COVID-19 in different ways. I'm not interested in political spin, or in networks trying to pump up their ratings with unscientific sensationalism.

Give me the facts and I'll be fine. I'd like to know what I am dealing with.

I'm not scared of this virus, because I know how to keep myself and those around me safe. What I am afraid of are the gun slinging nitwits who believe it's okay to endanger my life just so they can get a six pack at the beer emporium, buy some ammo at Walmart, and get their bushy beards trimmed.

All in the name of freedom.

BUT MANY TO ADMIRE

Then there are people I have tremendous admiration for. The essential workers, the ones who do the dirty, risky jobs for minimum wage with minimum protection. You know, the tax-paying immigrants targeted for incarceration and eventually deportation.

I also admire colleagues such as Jolanda Bayens (I wrote about her last week), who went back to nursing to help vulnerable seniors. Every single day she's dealing with new cases of Corona, as coffins leave the premises of the care facility she works at.

COVID-19 preys on the weak, the willfully unprotected, and even on pastors who are dead certain that God will keep them and their misguided out of the Pearly Gates.

.... AND VOICE ACTOR HELLEN MOES

This week I learned that another member of our voice acting tribe is doing her share to help those suffering from COVID. Her name is Hellen Moes (pictured), and she doubles as a certified speech therapist in the Netherlands.

Hellen works in a teaching hospital, and normally she assists patients who have trouble swallowing and speaking after they've been treated for a malignant tumor in the oral cavity, or pharynx.

These days, Hellen helps Corona patients that just came off the ventilator who are having problems with their oral intake.

Hellen says that most people don't realize that the same organs that allow us to speak and sing, are used for the safe intake of food. They help us to chew and taste, and swallow solids and liquids.

"Safe" means making sure that everything ends up in the esophagus, and not in the trachea.

THE INGENIOUS SYSTEM ...

All of us were born with a very ingenious system that protects us from choking. Hellen explains:
"In less than a second, our swallowing reflex separates food from air, closing the vocal folds, making the larynx move up as the epiglottis is closing the opening to the respiratory system while the tongue and the back throat wall are pushing the food to the gullet inlet.

"COVID-19 patients on respirators are intubated. During intubation a special instrument (laryngoscope) is used to carefully push the epiglottis away, so the intubation tube can be inserted in the trachea through the opened vocal folds.

"A small balloon at the end of the tube holds it in place inside the trachea. This means that patients can't swallow as long as they're on a respirator. They're fed artificially through a nasal probe that enters the throat, going to the gullet inlet to the stomach.

"That's precisely the reason why these patients are sedated while they're on a respirator.

"When the throat muscles aren't used for complicated things like coughing, vocalizing, and speaking, they weaken. During intubation it sometimes happens that a vocal fold gets scratched, a vocal cord nerve gets entrapped, and vocal folds become paralyzed.

"This has a negative impact on the swallowing function, and on someone's ability to speak."
WHEN PATIENTS WAKE UP ...

Once the intubation tube has been removed, and the patients wake up, they find that it's almost impossible to speak. They've either completely lost their voice, or the voice is very weak.

On top of that, it's almost impossible to cough because the vocal folds cannot close properly to build up the necessary pressure.

When the patients try to drink something, they choke and can't cough. When that happens, a speech therapist like Hellen is called in.

She picks up the story:
"The Coronavirus has definitely changed the nature of my work. Part of me is afraid, a little ill at ease, and unsure of myself.

"The support and involvement of the nurses is crucial for me, as is the protective clothing. It gives me some peace of mind.

"Because I am wearing a face mask, the patients have a hard time hearing my instructions. Normally, I show my patients how they can swallow more forcefully, but now they can't see that. After I give them instructions, I have to listen carefully to make sure no food has gotten into their vulnerable lungs.

"Most of my patients have a long way to go before they can eat their steak and fries, but they are usually very grateful that they're able to taste real food after having gone through a very, very difficult period."
Please remember that COVID-19 is a merciless killer. To quote a recent article:
"Clinicians are realizing that although the lungs are ground zero, its reach can extend to many organs including the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, gut, and brain. The disease can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences. Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling."
ONE OF MY HEROES

Hellen Moes is taking a short break from speech therapy to voice a project for the medical faculty of the University of Maastricht.

Like her colleague Jolanda, she's very down to earth, and doesn't think she's doing something heroic. She's doing what she's been trained to do: helping people recover from something that could have easily killed them. Something that could potentially kill her, too.

Hellen is one of my heroes.

ELATED TO BE ALIVE ... GIVING THANKS

As I wake up from my dream, I feel elated to be alive. It seems my number isn't up yet.

All I can do to help, is stay inside as much as I can. Anne Frank and her family could do it for two years, and they didn't have Netflix, Instagram, or Facebook. So, you don't hear me complaining about physical distancing, or the need for a haircut. It's a small price to pay to save lives.

Once again I feel overcome by gratitude for the people in the front lines who battle COVID-19 every single day. The people who keep the country running and the supermarkets stocked. The workers in warehouses, the people who deliver, and the scientists searching for a vaccine.

If only I had a way to say "Thank you!"

Then my colleague Bev Standing came up with an idea. J. Michael Collins wrote the script, and Humberto Franco did the editing. Lots of voice over friends donated their voice to this video that says it all. Have a look:


Thank you to those that are helping to keep us safe during these trying times.

And thank you to Bev Standing and everyone else involved in putting this video together. It's a honor to have played a part.
----------------
ABOUT PAUL
Paul Strikwerda is a 25+-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. He is also a voice over coach, author of the book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and writes an informative and entertaining blog.

Web: www.nethervoice.com
Blog: www.nethervoice.com/nethervoice

Making MONEY In Your PJs: http://makingmoneyinyourpjs.com

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