Fight Doctor: A woman among men in the boxing ring

A doctor's office on East 56th Street looks more like an art gallery than a place of medicine. It's a stark comparison to the blood and trauma its resident doctor, Linda Dahl, has seen. And she says she has seen "a lot of violence."

Now an ear, nose and throat doctor, Dahl was born in North Dakota, went to medical school in the Midwest, and then did her residency in 1998 in the Bronx at Jacobi Hospital, which has now been rebuilt into the Jacobi Medical Center. Becoming a surgeon and working in the E.R. was an awakening for her.

"You read about things, you hear about things, but really living in that environment, was very eye-opening to see what people go through," Dahl said about working in the Bronx.

One night she came home and found an escape.

"It was boxing," Dahl said.

At first, she didn't like watching boxing because she had treated a lot of those wounds at the hospital.

"But eventually there was one particular fight that was so compelling, and it was between (Shane) Mosley and (Oscar) De La Hoya," she said. "It was amazing to see the community come together, and the community understood where the fighters came from, so there was more meaning in the fighting … it wasn't just about violence, and the violence I saw in the hospital."

It eventually inspired Dahl to become a fight doctor.

"One day, one patient came in, and I used to ask my patients what they did, and he just happened to mention he worked for HBO Sports and it sparked the memory in my mind when I used to watch 'HBO after Dark,'" she said. "I just blurted out 'I want to be a fight doctor.'"

A few phone calls later, Dahl was on her way.

"There was no guidebook, and it ended up being doctors of many different specialties," she said. "None of whom were female and none of whom where ear, nose and throat doctors."

Everyone had to get used to a woman in the ring. But Dahl quickly earned the respect.

She said there were perks, such as men helping her into the ring.

"When the fighter was cut, they would all move out of the way, so I could take a look," she said, "as opposed to a male doctor—they kind of hid it from them."

Dahl admitted that certain situations were awkward.

"They felt almost, culturally too, they think women shouldn't be exposed to this kind of trauma," she said.

At the time, the men underestimated what Dahl was used to dealing with in the hospitals where she worked.

Many times, Dahl had to treat a boxer whose health was in serious danger

"It was terrifying. There's no rule that tells you as a fight doctor when to stop the fight," she said. "You really have to have a sense whether the fighter is sustaining permanent injury or not."

After four years in the ring, Dahl went back to private practice. Many of her current patients are singers and Broadway performers. While boxing and Broadway are two different worlds, the similarities are astounding.

"Because it's all theater, really! They're up on a stage like the boxers in the ring," Dahl said. "I find the same sort of perseverance in the Broadway actors as in the boxers because this is it for them."

But the biggest difference: Dahl treated mostly broken orbital bones in boxing and now treats most of the singers for sinus infections.

Dahl chronicled her path from the Bronx to Madison Square Garden to Broadway in the memoir "Tooth and Nail. Writing the book helped her answer the question: Why did she love being a fight doctor?

"I felt a lot of empathy for the boxers because I had gotten so close to the similar population of young men in the Bronx," Dahl said. "So I understood where they came from and why they would want to box."