You can cancel my flights but you can't cancel my passion!
When the pandemic hit, I was in Turkey. Seeing my original flight and many others cancelled, I realised I was not going to get out in a while and, like many stranded English citizens, I was likely to to be here for a long time.
But I was lucky; I had stunning scenery to look at, a fairly warm climate to sit in the sun, foods to die for and incredibly kind locals surrounding me with the unique love that is endemic and natural to a Turkish people centred on family culture. So while I settled into a ‘new life’ of social distancing (amidst an ever increasing number of 'rules and guidances' put into play by the Turkish government, though I have to add, for everyone’s benefit). So I planned to be around for some time playing 'stay safe' in the confines of my own apartment.
But I did feel grateful when a colleague in film, who was not only safe but able to communicate via the internet and, during meetings we could have, as and when we were allowed, having such contact with such friends made the isolation all the less fearful and reduced my feelings of desperation taking hold.
When the actual severity of the pandemic hit hard, it hit the UK worst of all. Listening to the daily BBC news from the television and reading story after story, I began to see how my dear nursing friends in the UK, were struggling under the weight of not only the huge demand placed on them but, as the lack of PPE and their own desperation pressed them even further, the pandemic began to fill me with all sorts of emotional horrors.
And I began going through one of the most heart-wrenching times in my life.
To add to the stress, my mum called me from the UK saying she was feeling very ill, not been out of bed for weeks and was struggling to breathe. Now the person I spoke to over the phone was a completely different mum from the very fit and able mum I knew. To say I was climbing the walls at this stage was an understatement! Fortunately, a colleague calmed me down as I became quite adamant to get back to the UK in any way to be with mum. But with no flights being available, I knew that if I did get back to the UK that I could be subject to 14 days in self-isolation, anywhere. Such an experience would have been difficult enough.
I called my mum two, maybe three times a day to see how she was doing, and slowly, over time, both my nursing experience and a close bond that all daughters share with their mothers, told me that she was going to get better. The relief felt at that stage was simply massive. In fact this has been the only time I’ve thought back to this, as to begin with any relief didn’t register. I only knew that the nausea, tearful moments and feelings of anxiousness eased. But with the experience of it all and my constant call on my nursing taking care of mum, thoughts went back to my nursing colleagues as to how they were coping, as the lack of PPE and consequences of this whole pandemic became evident through the news reports and online, via social media 'reach-outs'.
It was then that I saw a reported surge in hospital admissions in contrast to the government assuring everyone that they were on top of the problem but were really struggling with it all, and, like many others who realised, told me I needed to get involved. Somehow. I remember sitting by the pool outside my apartment, thoughts spinning round as to how useless I felt being a fully qualified and trained nurse of over 10 years yet knowing there was nothing I could do to help my colleagues at home while I was banned from flying and domestic routes to and from the airport were shutting down. I even reached out to my Turkish friends, determined to help in some way, offering my nursing skills to any of the local hospitals, despite my Turkish language not being up to standard. But Turkish cases were amazingly low and the need here was a stark contrast to the need in the UK.
But I felt quite low, knowing I had exhausted all avenues in getting back to nursing but had nothing I could focus on to help.
And then I began to think laterally.
By this time I had numerous colleagues already reaching out to me via social media and, knowing their increasing plight and the daunting issues facing my being stuck in Turkey and unable to return, as they began to off-loading their frustrations, mostly due to the lack of PPE, I then came up with the idea of an online, ‘community’ group where all healthcare professionals anywhere in the UK might be able to get together to build a camaraderie spirit among one another and get hold of equipment, somehow, to help each other.
I shared my thoughts and ideas with my film colleague in Turkey and, with the desire of using an NHS-SOS name, we came up with the term ' Save Our Staff' which stuck and "NHS-SOS - Save Our Staff" was born.
Having extensive knowledge of the media world and using his contacts and his creativity, my colleague designed what is now seen and recognised today as the branding we created to help all front line workers, everywhere. NHS SOS – Save our Staff.
And that was where it all began. And the rest, as they say, will be a history I will always fondly remember as the day when, despite being over 3,000 miles away, I was able to reach out and help my friends.
Sian Francis. Founder. NHS-SOS. Save Our Staff.