Dr. Gerald M. McDougall
October 1934 – December 2015


He heals the broken-hearted
and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

During my first months at Riverview, I was fortunate to have Dr. McDougall looking after me. When I left hospital I would follow him when he opened his private practice.

At the hospital, I remember him drawing up beside me as I walked down the hall. With his arm over my shoulder, he said, “And how’s my friend today?” That’s the kind of guy he was.

Years later, when he had gone into private practice, Dr. McDougall cared for me after a difficult Caesarean birth. When I broke emotionally, he saw to it that I got a  private room while I waited till I was physically well enough to be admitted to the psych ward. He looked in on me every day. Such a kind person! Such a friend.

When Dr. McDougall moved to Calgary to take a position there, he called me personally to say goodbye. He asked me to send him a card at Christmas.

And that I did. Not only one, but many. Cards, letters, and photographs went to him, reporting on everything I was doing. I don’t remember writing much about the tough times. Mostly I wanted him to be proud of me, so I would tell him about my various successes. When good things happened, I could hardly wait to let him know in my next letter. Having him there to “talk to” like that helped a lot.

In 1999, when I published my first book, Riding the Roller Coaster, he was kind enough to write the foreword.

Many years later, another call came from him, telling me he was retiring. He asked me what I would like him to do with all the correspondence I had sent him. I told him to go ahead and throw it away. I was ready to let go.

But he didn’t end our connection. He gave me the phone number I could reach him at. However—and I could kick myself—the little slip of paper I had written it on was lost. I’ve tried to locate Dr. McDougall again but could not find him until now.

As I was writing this account, I managed to find his obituary online. Dr. McDougall died in 2015 at the age of 81. The write-up mentioned him as a “deeply compassionate” man. And that he was!

Quoting part of the obit: “A highlight of his career was spearheading a partnership with the Justice system and the Salvation Army to establish the Calgary Diversion Program aimed at providing treatment, rather than jail time, for the mentally ill who were charged with minor offenses. This program was one of the first in Canada, and in recognition of his contributions, he received the Alberta Lieutenant Governor’s Circle Award for Mental Health and Addiction in 2013.”

How fortunate I was to have been looked after by such a gifted and caring psychiatrist! He greatly influenced my life, making me feel like a person worthy of care and attention. Although Dr. McDougall’s relationship with me was a professional one, I also know he was a friend.

But let’s go back to Riverview for just a bit:

After three months there I was discharged. However, I only had a few months of freedom before I had to be re-admitted. Dr. McDougall had left by then, replaced by a doctor who wouldn’t even return my greeting when we passed each other in the hallway. That doctor made me feel like a nonperson.

But something good happened during this depressing time as well. In the months before re-admission to hospital I had met a young man called Wes. He stuck with me for the next six interminable months I was in hospital. Yes, he stayed with me—a sick person who was bloated and had her mouth hanging open much of the time. She was often confused from over-medication.

How fortunate I was to have had someone who loved me enough to patiently stand by as I worked toward recovery.

This has been part 3 of my series My Journey from Patient to Leader. Read part 4: A Special Kind of Man.