“Thanks Doc”

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Stanstead

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!”

Pho­tos Vic­to­ria Vanier

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!

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