It’s hard to say what the patients of Stanstead’s Dr. Gilles Bouchard, who officially retired from practicing medicine on July 1st, exactly fifty years after he started, will miss most: his medical expertise or his bountiful sense of humour, something known
now to be an important part of the healing process.
Dr. Bouchard, who cared for Americans as well as Canadians for many years until new insurance regulations prohibited him from treating American clients, has been honoured on both sides of the border for the devotion and compassion he showed towards the people that he served. Before he went into semi-retirement about ten years ago, he worked five and a half days a week at his office, then spent his evenings making the rounds at seniors residences. Along the way, he cared for sports stars like Guy Lafleur and Mad Dog Vachon, visiting astronauts, and around fifty other doctors who must have known a good doctor when they saw one. He was also once featured in a Volkswagon advertisement, driving a Volkswagon Beetle out to the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter to make a housecall, something he was famous for doing long after the practice went out of fashion.
But perhaps what Dr. Bouchard is most famous for is the small sign in his waiting room that reads: “No one must pay if you are short of money. Just say ‘Thanks Doc’.”
On the occasion of his retirement, Dr. Bouchard was reluctant to do an interview, eventually agreeing since it was for the local newspaper. The interview took place in his office, a doctor’s office like no other with its antique, well-polished medical equipment sitting across from a fax machine, one that the doctor admitted spewed out warnings almost daily about common medications. Taking up almost an entire wall was a stuffed and mounted hammerhead shark, caught by the doctor himself. On another wall, a framed photograph spans the decades: Dr. Bouchard with Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Unusual gifts from thankful doctors also decorate his office, such as hand-carved birds from an American doctor and a brass rhinoceros from the late Dr. Farfan, of Stanstead.
Born and raised in Stanstead, Dr. Bouchard never considered moving his practice from his hometown. “We liked it here and it was inexpensive to live here; I bought this house for $11,000! I grew up in Stanstead, a family of eight boys. Since the 19th century, we haven’t had a girl born in the Bouchard family. Just before my fourth son was born, Lloyd Bliss wrote in the Stanstead Journal: ‘The new Bouchard baby will be called Gertrude, whether a boy or a girl!’ We adopted a girl after that,” he recalled as he showed me a framed photograph of his now adult children hanging on the wall. “But it gets expensive when the kids go away to school. At one point I was paying for five apartments. Boy, the doctor was working then!” He is, without a doubt, very proud of his children, none of whom went into the medical profession. “They’re all making more money than me now!” A nephew of his did, however, become a doctor who practices in Newport. “I’ve got the best doctor, Mark Bouchard, and his brother’s my dentist.”
Appreciated not only for his skill as a family doctor, but also for making his patients laugh, Dr. Bouchard spoke about the importance of humour: “It would be sad not to practice medicine with some humour. Della Goodsell broke her leg a while ago, right before that day, in 2012, when the world was supposed to end. I said to her: ‘We don’t need to do anything – the world’s going to end tomorrow!’ She was laughing when they put her in the ambulance.” Even the youngest patients were sure to have a chuckle in Dr. Bouchard’s office as they fed his ‘hungry monster’: a paper shredder that he tapes a drawing of a comical monster with a big mouth to.
During the interview, Dr. Bouchard was much more interested in sharing some of his entertaining stories than talking about his accomplishments. “There are a lot of people around here deserving of recognition, nurses, teachers… There’s a priest in Stanstead who has been here for thirty years who’s about to retire. Father Yvon Malouin and I got kicked out of the Sherbrooke Seminary together when we were about nineteen,” he said. A group of students defied their headmaster, heading out to see a movie on a day when there were no classes. Even though they were all well-behaved, actually walking to the cinema two by two, they were all kicked out of the school when it was discovered what they did. “And we’d gone to see The Robe!”
In semi-retirement, Dr. Bouchard continued to be an astoundingly ‘available’ doctor, keeping his office open seven hours a day, five days a week, opening three hours on Saturday, and answering his phone twenty-four hours a day until just recently. “I’ve always been a walk-- in clinic – I’m a depanneur!” he joked, then continued: “It was okay to call in the middle of the night for a reason. But one night, at 3:00 in the morning, a guy called just for our office hours. That’s when ‘Mother Superior’ began yanking the phone at 11:00 pm,” he said.
Mother Superior is, of course, Dr. Bouchard’s wife, Madeline. Trained as a nurse, Mrs. Bouchard was as dedicated as her husband, always working at his side. “I relied on my wife completely, doing all the paperwork, ordering supplies, taking care of me! Now she uses me to do her crossword puzzles – I know all the medical terms.” Asked what motivated her to work beside her husband all these years, Mrs. Bouchard said: “I was always interested in the medical profession, and we were a team. And I also didn’t have to go and look for a job!”
Although what Dr. Bouchard will miss most are his patients, they didn’t always make life easy for him. “I used to walk along the street for exercise but then I’d hear, ‘Yoo-hoo, doctor. My hemorrhoids are acting up’ and ‘yoo-hoo, doctor. Can you fill my prescription?’ But what I’ll miss most is the daily contact with people; the intimate, close relationship I have with my patients.” One of his patients, after learning of his retirement, told him: “I don’t care if you’re quitting; I’m coming to see you anyway.” “I’ve seen a lot of nice people, very grateful people.”
The decision to retire this year was made easier by the insurance companies. “Medical insurance went from $1 million a year to $10 million this year,” he explained, mentioning a significant change in our public health system that is sure to have an effect.
Besides, as he put it, “Buying new running shoes to chase the Missus around the kitchen table”, now that they’ve retired, Dr. and Mrs. Bouchard are planning to do some travelling, although it won’t be to one of Dr. Bouchard’s favourite places: Paris. “I can’t get travel insurance anymore since I had heart surgery. So we’ll travel to British Colombia, visit our grandchildren.” Asked how many grandchildren he had, he joked: “We have lots. Well, it must be a lot because my wife is always going out to buy someone a gift.”
As we were finishing the interview which took place a few weeks ago, and as a few clients arrived in the waiting room although it was way past office hours, Dr. Bouchard commented: “I’ve really enjoyed this career, but I’ve got to retire before my kids do. My work has been a passion for me, and, if you can find a livelihood that’s a passion, then you’ll never do a day of work!”
Dr. Bouchard let his young patients feed his ‘hungry monster’ when they visited his office.
Dr. Gilles Bouchard and his wife, Madeline, worked as a team for fifty years providing excellent and compassionate health care to Canadians and Americans at their walk-in clinic, in Stanstead. They will be ‘sorely’ missed!