Committed to the job

Sara Kuhl/The Register

Charles Bowman poses for a photo at the Berea station on Rash Road for Madison County EMS.

If there's one thing that can be said about Charles Bowman concerning his paramedic job with Madison County EMS, it's that he's committed.

He's so committed that when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer at age 44, a moment he called surreal, he didn't want to miss work. Even though it had metastasized to Bowman's liver, he wanted to only take one month off to recuperate instead of the mandatory eight weeks.

He was able to return to work on Oct. 2 despite still undergoing chemotherapy treatments and has to go back for a repeat PET scan afterward. He said he should be finished up with cancer treatments by the second week of November, but continues to work throughout all of it.

"For some reason, I'm still here. I've not gotten my job done yet," Bowman said. "… I've always been a person that's had a strong work ethic. I don't like to sit around and not do anything. … I mean, I've had a job since I was 16 years old. If not one, two."

Bowman also picks up overtime shifts as they're available and has worked as a paramedic in Somerset for the past eight years while working for Madison County EMS for the past six years.

Last week, that translated to him working 24 hours Friday, 12 hours Saturday, 15 hours on Sunday and 24 hours on Monday.

"I was just ready to get back out there," he said. "I can't sit at home all the time."

He had the same attitude toward work in May 2018 when his mother passed away, too.

"Every day, I knew that mom had signed her do not resuscitate order herself, and that was her wish. She was on hospice. So the day that she passed away, my immediate family except one brother was with my mom. She wanted to be at home, and that's exactly where she was, surrounded by family," he explained.

In fact, her health was the reason Bowman started working with Madison County EMS. Previously, while he lived in Berea, he would commute two hours one way to get to work.

Bowman's first EMT job was in 1994 in Rockcastle County after he started EMT school in 1993. He said his mother, who worked as a nurse while Bowman was growing up, was also his inspiration for going into the medical field.

"I'd see the way she'd work as a nurse, and she was a very caring person, so I hope that's instilled into me some," he said. "I guess it was just inevitable, because my sister's a nurse, and I'm a medic, so it was just our path that we were going to go down, I guess."

What really hooked him into the field, though, was the first time he was in the back of an ambulance.

"I decided that'd be my career, and I'd retire out from it," Bowman said.

So he branched out and worked for other counties, including Laurel and Jackson.

"It seemed like working two days a week wasn't very much, and I enjoyed it, so I just wanted to continue to work and work," he explained. "And it's been that way for 26 years now."

In 1998, Bowman started Eastern Kentucky University's paramedic program, too, so he can do more while he was out on runs.

"EMT, they provide basic life supports," Bowman said. "The paramedics are a little bit more knowledgeable in the sense of they can administer the medications, they can do the heart monitors, they can do the EKGS, they can diagnose, I guess, a little bit better."

Bowman said he never became a paramedic for the money or the thanks that he would get.

"I simply like the point of knowing that if a person actually needs some help, that I might be able to provide something for them," he said. "… I don't like to see anybody hurt. I don't like to see anybody sick. But at the same time, it's inevitable. And some people think paramedics are cold-hearted, it's like 'Well you're family member has died.' It's a final word. Death is a final word, and some people just have to cope with it the best they can."

However, from the moment Bowman is called to an emergency, he goes forward with the call with compassion and empathy.

"I want to treat the people like their my family, not just some other person we're picking up," he said. "It makes everything go a little bit smoother that way. They're already stressed enough as it is with their emergencies. If I come in and just be stressed out too, all anxious, nothing's going to get done very well."

Because he always has taken that approach with his patients, he said his personal life -- his mother's passing and his cancer diagnosis -- hasn't changed the way he does his job.

"I try to come in here, and my personal life is just that, my personal life," he said. "I leave it at the door, and then I deal with my business life here. If you don't separate the two, then people don't normally last more than five or six years in this field. When the radio gets turned off, then it's my time."

But he added that his life experiences have helped him understand more.

"I still deal with my patients the same way as I did before the cancer diagnosis, but it's the point of now, having experienced it myself personally, when we take patients like to the compassionate care center … I can be pretty much a little bit closer in their bubble with them to understand what they're trying to go through or what they're having to go through," he said.

He added that a lot of people aren't able to work when they go through chemotherapy and said he's thankful that he hasn't had a lot of the negative side effects.

"I'm going to keep working until my body says that I can't," he said. "If all else fails, I can retire in the next six years if need be, but I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I didn't have anything else to do, you know, if I didn't have to come to work."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Behind the Badge is a series published once a month in The Register to highlight first responders and those in any related field in Madison County. Know someone who has a good story to share? Email details to skuhl@richmondregister.com.

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