Dave Bowman, MD, doesn’t run anywhere anymore; it’s more of a fast walk. He doesn’t consider himself political, yet he does his civic duty and votes in every election. He’s not a big fan of vegetables, but he eats them to appease his wife and his conscience. Most important, Dr. Bowman doesn’t consider himself a hero. In fact, he doesn’t consider what he did that day any different from what he does every day in the hospital.
On the morning of Jan. 8, Dr. Bowman and his wife, Nancy, were thrust into the epicenter of one of the worst shooting rampages in American history. Dr. Bowman, a hospitalist, was the first physician on the scene outside the Tucson, Ariz., grocery store where a lone gunman killed six people and injured 13 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
“A hero is somebody, to me, who steps out of their element, steps up to the task that is needed, a task that is completely foreign to them, and steps up and helps people,” says Dr. Bowman, 61, executive director for IPC The Hospitalist Co.’s Tucson region. “A hero is not somebody who should be able to help in some manner and should be expected to help. … I don’t think nurses, doctors, firemen, EMTs get to be labeled as heroes. It’s what we should do, and gladly do, and in many cases took an oath to do.”
Even so, Dr. Bowman’s recollection of that frightful morning is a story laced with tragedy, courage, and hope. He remembers those who are “no longer with us.” He remembers his wife administering CPR and calling victims’ loved ones on their cellphones. And he remembers the brave men and women who not only subdued the shooter, but who worked together, selflessly, and in many cases with no medical training, to assist their injured neighbors.
“It was a pretty traumatic scene. More for others than for me; I am supposed to be the doctor and can handle all that,” he says, pausing. “But they don’t teach this course in medical school.”
Shots Ring Out, First Thought Is Help
Born and raised 100 miles south of Tucson and internal-medicine-trained at the University of Arizona, Dr. Bowman became a hospitalist in 1998 and began working with IPC in 2000. He supervises a staff of about 90 providers, including more than 50 full-time hospitalists, serving two large community hospitals, rehabilitations centers, and skilled nursing facilities in the Tucson area.
Yet he knows who the real boss is in the Bowman household. He and Nancy, an ICU nurse, had just finished a brisk walk, eaten breakfast at McDonald’s, and stopped at Safeway to pick up some vegetables on the morning of Jan. 8. “I had the oatmeal. I was so proud of myself,” Dr. Bowman says. “And, as wives will want to do, she pushes the envelope and says she wants to stop by and get some Brussels sprouts. She hadn’t had them in 20 years, and I hadn’t had them in 45 years—since my mom stunk up the house with them. So we ended up at the Safeway, because the two things that keeps a marriage together are those two words: ‘Yes, dear.’ ”
The Bowmans passed by Rep. Giffords, her staff, and about 25 people in front of the grocery store entrance. They went to the produce department and had not been in the store for more than three or four minutes before shots rang out.
“I was 150 percent sure they were gunshots,” Dr. Bowman says. “I said to my wife, ‘Let’s go, Nancy,’ and she didn’t hear me. I thought she was right behind me. But she had gone over to the Brussels sprouts and I was still in mushrooms.”