Captain’s Log-Doctor Cotton’s Aerial Traveling Surgical Show, The Matabeleland Flying Doctor Service

Dr. Michael Cotton with the school boys at Manama Mission Hospital by the MAF plane.

For years I had the privilege of flying Doctor Michael Cotton and Doctor Specialists with their medical teams all over Matabeleland from Beit Bridge to Binga and everything in between.  It was one of the most interesting things that I got to be a part of in Zimbabwe.

In “theater” (operating room) with Dr. Cotton “the flying doctor” of Zimbabwe.

We took monthly medical trips to various government and mission hospitals to do surgery and training exercises.  Victoria Fall one of the great destinations we visited regularly. Trips to Association of Surgeons of East Africa meetings all over the continent from Zimbabwe to Zanzibar.  This was always a fun time for me because we would take a couple of days and stay at the hospital guest house or crocodile farm or some other very unusual place and I would find interesting things to do.   From fixing broken machinery around the mission station to fishing or even assisting in the theatre during operations, I had a ball.

I have sat in the corner of the operating room with my Leatherman knife trying to repair the skin grafting machine so Dr. Cotton could finish a serious operation.  There was a young school girl who had been struck by lightening causing her nylon knee socks to melt to her legs.  She had 3rd degree burns from her knees to her ankles.  I was able to fix the machine and the surgery was very successful.  I have had my mechanic’s tools from the airplane put in the autoclave to be sterilized for some orthopedic operations, as they were better for the job than anything at the hospital.  After assisting I think I would have loved being a surgeon.  It is much like working on a car or plane.  Just blood in stead of hydraulic fluid.

X-ray of barbed spear near Tonga man’s heart, and the healed scar after surgery.

Doctor Cotton has done some very unusual operations that you wouldn’t see every day in the US or UK, like removing axes from people’s heads or repairing bites from crocodiles or gores by buffalo.  But my personal favorite was removing a fishing spear from a man’s chest that rested only inches from his heart.  It was the result of some altercation between men.  Someone owed someone money and someone said something rude…but, bottom line, Mike was able to save him.

Fishing spear removed from a man’s chest.

Dr. Mike worked tirelessly and always with a smile to serve the people of Zimbabwe.  It was always great working with him and being a part of what he did there.

Me with Dr. Mike and some of his team, patients, and people that just wanted in the picture.

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5 Responses to Captain’s Log-Doctor Cotton’s Aerial Traveling Surgical Show, The Matabeleland Flying Doctor Service

  1. Alex von Roon says:

    Dear Jon,

    So lovely to read your blog about these trips! It brought back many happy memories of our time with Mike and you in 2005. I entirely agree with you that performing surgery is not that dissimilar to fixing a car (having done both myself too)! I read your blog on your current activities with great interest and trust that all remains well.
    Much love to you and Cher from London,

    Alex (and Sarah).

    • Jon says:

      Hey Alex and Sarah,
      Wow, Long time! So glad you wrote in. It has been good to connect to many of the people we flew with Flying Doctor Service. What are you doing now? Love to hear your news. Cheers, Jon

  2. lynjthomas says:

    Congratulations to you both on this life saving and life changing work. So impressed.

  3. Dear Jon,
    Seems a long time. Thanks for the laudatory comments. I’d like to share some more pics with you of our time in Zim. Pity we missed you when you came to Switzerland. Do drop me a line. Best regards to Cher. (I guess you know Colin Bristow died of a brain tumour..)
    All the best,

    • Jon says:

      Hey Michael, It has been too long. I would love to have more pix of our Matabeleland Flying Doctor Service days and anything else you have. Love to catch up with where you are and what’s up with the family. Wish you a very Happy Christmas, Jon

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