Out-Island Doctor is the autobiography of Evans Cottman, starting out as a lonely biology teacher in Indiana. Cottman led a quiet, and by all accounts rather dull, life. His focus was teaching and caring for his aging parents and aunt with whom he lived. Cottman had a strong sense of adventure and hungered to break free from such a conventional lifestyle. Thus begins his exploration and eventual transplant to the exotic islands of the Bahamas.
The story really begins in 1939, when Cottman decided he wanted to visit the out-islands of the Bahamas - lesser inhabited settlements dotting the larger islands and cities. He started a letter writing campaign to commissioners of the islands themselves to arrange visits, and they were very accommodating. In visiting the islands that first summer of 1939, and during subsequent journeys, he came to love the adventure, the climate, and the people. And they returned the admiration for him.
In discovering his love of his new home, we follow Cottman through turbulent sailing trips, severe seasickness, blistering heat, harsh storms, and insect-ridden abodes. It would be quaint to call his living conditions rustic - they were often in poverty, yet part of the native Bahamian landscape. Eventually, Cottman transitions from summer visits to permanent residence and must determine how to make a living to supplement his modest teachers’ pension. He settles on medicine, as the remote, out-islands have little or nothing in the way of healthcare, and he takes on a regimen to learn the profession, achieving a doctor’s permit.
Cottman’s story is extraordinary. The physical move to this remote location is one thing, but he continues to surprise by embracing his circumstances - sometimes living in squalor, teaching himself to practice medicine, learning to sail, adventuring the unknown. Cottman continues to bring us along as he builds a home, a profession, and a family, with exceptional determination and perseverance.
Throughout the book, I often questioned his sanity. However, I couldn’t help but admire his drive to chase his dream. While not a writing masterpiece by any means, the tale is an interesting one of life-changing events and a happy outcome. If you have any interest in the Bahamas, adventure, or simply overcoming the odds, Out-Island Doctor may be a fun read for you.
Published: 1963 / 1989
Publisher: E.P. Dutton & Co. / Media Publishing
Vickie’s rating: 3 stars