Linda D. Dahl, author of the memoir “Tooth and Nail: the Making of a Female Fight Doctor,” introduces readers to an exceptional world. Dahl was an ENT doctor in an upscale New York office in Manhattan by day and a fight doctor by night.
The term “fight doctor” is used professionally to describe a physician hired by a state’s Athletic Commission to monitor a boxer as he competes in the ring. (Not all states have an Athletic Commission, and a fight doctor is not the same as the “cutter” that most boxers employ in their entourage.)
Each boxer has his own appointed physician who evaluates the fighter before and after a fight and treats the boxer if he is seriously injured in the ring. The fight doctor has the right to call off a fight if it seems that the boxer could actually die. The main goal of a fight doctor is to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Dahl opens the book by describing her difficult time as a resident at a hospital in the Bronx. Raised mostly in Minot, North Dakota, she received her medical degree in Minnesota and began her residency in New York. Most of her life Dahl regarded herself as “a fish out of water.”
She is of Middle Eastern heritage and was treated differently because she looked different than her North Dakota classmates. Her home life wasn’t the same as a typical youth from the Midwest either.
As a female in the oft-ruthless field of medicine, Dahl endured sexism and prejudice that dogged her as she pursued her education. Today, Dahl still considers herself an outsider, describing her persona as under-confident, submissive and resigned to being a woman in a masculine world. She recalls the fate of a very talented fellow female resident who fought back against the sexual harassment and patronizing reactions to her medical observations by her peers and superiors. This brilliant doctor ended up never receiving privileges to work in hospitals after graduation and ended up in a small town hospital in Jersey. Dahl expected the same would happen to her if she spoke up against the similar treatment she received.
Towards the end of her residency, she watched a pay-for-view boxing match between Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya with her then-husband. Dahl observed that the underdog won because he was steady, not wild or showy or full of bravado. He seemed to stay true to himself, as opposed to using all his muscular strength to fight back. This fight helped Dahl decide to not just react to all that happened around her but to develop a strategy of quiet strength that would make her feel like less of a victim.
Hired to work in large Manhattan firm, Dahl meets a patient who is familiar with the boxing world. Through him she acquired an occasional but steady job as a fight doctor. She was paid $250 a night and was the only woman fight doctor in New York at the time.
During her Manhattan experience as an ENT, she met another woman who worked with mostly men in an unusual profession. She gave Dahl the tools she needed to be strong and in charge against harassers in the boxing arena. Dahl’s new techniques enabled her to earn respect as she garnered attention in her nighttime profession.
Dahl supervised fighters in all areas in the city, but mostly in Manhattan including much time at Madison Square Garden. HBO often televised the fights and her fellow doctors and patients recognized her. They were impressed when she feared they would be horrified at what she was doing with her time.
Dahl met all the famous boxers and even spent a platonic evening with Mike Tyson. She understood the boxers’ motivation and was as exhilarated by the fights as were boxing fans. Today, Dahl is no longer supervising fights as a physician; her last fight was in 2008. Dahl has opened her own ENT practice in Manhattan.
“Tooth and Nail” is unexpectedly good, arresting and moving, offering unique insight into the world of boxing.