George Mckenzie Banner
George Mckenzie Banner

ellenor offers friendship to bereaved pensioner

Since 92-year-old George McKenzie’s wife died he has struggled with loneliness, but with the help of his friends at ellenor he has found joy in new activities and adopted a positive outlook.

Fellow day patients and staff at the hospice charity have given him friendship and a fresh zest for life. With their help and the loving support of his family, George now finds happiness in his daily life. The physiotherapy he receives to ease symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and fibrosis of the liver is also a great help to him.

The retired Swanley GP was referred to the Northfleet hospice as a day patient before the Covid pandemic. He no longer had the companionship of his dear wife Sylvia, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and had moved to a care home.

George said: “Losing that person you can talk to is the hardest thing.”

During his time in general practice from 1961 to 1993 George said he did not come across many patients with Alzheimer’s, so he found it hard to adjust.

He said: “Being a GP, people think you must know everything but that’s not the case. In fact, it’s surprising how much you don’t know. Alzheimer’s is a terrible disease and for the last couple of years Sylvia didn’t know us at all.”

Sylvia died just at the beginning of the Covid pandemic before lockdown, and George is thankful he was still able to visit her.

Finding himself no longer a carer and with no companion to share life’s ups and downs, George felt very much alone. But his weekly visits to ellenor, where he stays on after his physiotherapy for lunch and afternoon activities, have gradually helped to turn his life around.

He said: “I can talk to the staff there and meet other people in a similar situation, and the physiotherapy I receive is a great help. ellenor helps me to get there and home again, I have a lovely lunch, which  costs me less than a fiver.

“Coming to ellenor doesn’t mean you are on your last legs. A lot of the other day patients have breathing problems like me. Others have joint problems, and it helps a lot when you can talk about it. I do find it a godsend -- it’s very refreshing to talk to people and listen to their troubles.”

Losing Sylvia and then facing the Covid lockdowns made life doubly difficult for George. As a GP, he said he had never experienced anything as “shocking and worrying” as Covid before the pandemic eased. He also finds it difficult when dear friends die.

He said: “Like lots of people, I find it hard to go and see a GP. I had to give up driving two years ago because I have macular degeneration, and that’s the worst thing of all. When you stop driving, it all stops. I used to play golf three times a week, but my eyesight meant I couldn’t see the ball anyway.”

Like many people in George’s situation, giving up his licence has severely impacted his social life and his independence. He now spends £20 once a week on a taxi to take him to his Rotary Club meeting in Hartley – luckily one of his fellow Rotarians gives him a lift home.

Since being widowed George has made great strides to find a new life for himself. He misses his holidays with Sylvia, especially their annual trips to Scotland, where he grew up.

But his daughter Alison recently took him to Glasgow to stay with relatives and he was able to meet his four-month-old great-great-great niece for the first time. He was also lucky enough to take a steam train journey from Fort William to Mallaig.

The fitness from exercise and confidence that coming to ellenor has given George helps to make sure he continues to live his life to the fullest.

“That was lovely, “said the lifelong railway enthusiast. “It was so good to see all the children enjoying the ride – it was Harry Potter themed because we went over the famous viaduct.”

Alison, who lives in Southampton, is one of George’s three children. There is also Duncan, a GP in Yorkshire, and Malcolm, who lives in Basingstoke.

George also has four grandsons. Although his family are not on his doorstep they are very involved in his life, exchanging constant messages on a WhatsApp group and each of them visiting George regularly. George can often be seen taking pictures of whatever masterpiece he has created at ellenor’s Arts and Craft group that week to send to them.

Healthcare runs in the family, with George’s two daughters-in-law working as nurses. In fact, He joked: “If you get something wrong, they all want to know about it! They are always reminding me to be very careful with my balance and I do use a stick and sometimes a walking aid – it was a great help on holiday.”

George is used to a busy life. He said: “When I was a doctor, we regularly used to do 10 home visits each morning, but on Mondays it could be 20 to 30. We didn’t have locums then: we all used to divide up cover for evenings and weekends. Everything has changed so much; now you go into the doctor’s surgery, and they are looking at their computer screen.”

Now George finds it is his daily routine that keeps him from feeling too lonely. He gets up early and has his breakfast, then does a bit of weeding in the garden or spends time in his greenhouse. He likes to do puzzles, read the paper, do the crossword, and watch the news and programmes about railways. He even has a plan to go to Switzerland to try the mountainous train journeys there. He just needs to persuade a friend or family member to come along for the ride!

Who knows, perhaps he will meet one at ellenor?!