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Review: Tooth and Nail: The Making of a Female Fight Doctor by Linda D. Dahl

Ey there friends!

I haven’t blogged in 4 whole days and I feel really bad about it, but honestly the summer I have been having leaves no room for any kind of free time (although to be honest it is free time that I am filling up with plans). Either way, I had a crazy weekend. I went swimming, barbecued with my family and went to the zoo. I was trying to get a tan because I look like a container of sour cream, but no luck. At least today while I was finishing up this memoir, I basked in some direct sunlight (quite unusual for the PNW) and got a little burnt. So now I look like a lobster… but hey, I like lobster more than sour cream, no? (And yes, I am fully aware that sunburn can lead to melanoma, but I was only outside for an hour and the burn is a little more acute than I am making it out to be).


Anyways, the book that had me enthralled on my back porch swing is Tooth and Nail: The Making of a Female Fight Doctor written by Linda D. Dahl, an otolaryngologist, who became a female fight doctor. This book was sent to me by the publisher, free of charge, as part of a giveaway. The synopsis for the book follows:

Fresh out of medical school, Linda Dahl began her surgical residency in the Bronx as a total fish out of water. Growing up in a Middle Eastern family in the American Midwest, she was a born outsider, and in her new community in New York, she felt even more isolated. Even at work she struggled to fit in: among her fellow specialists, she was one of the only women.One night, at her husband’s urging, Dahl watched a boxing match between Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya. Seeing Mosley survive against the odds gave Dahl hope that she, too, could find her footing. As her fandom grew, boxing became a way to connect with her patients and community. Later, when she was in practice on the Upper East Side, Dahl received a phone call from the New York State Athletic Commission. They were looking for a fight doctor. Dahl accepted.Tooth and Nail chronicles the years Dahl spent as an ear, nose and throat surgeon by day and a ringside physician by night. Intrepid, adrenaline-fueled and loaded with behind-the-scenes takes on famous boxers, including Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitschko and Miguel Cotto, Dahl’s story offers a modern examination of sexism, dislocation, the theater of boxing and a road map for how to excel in two very different male-dominated worlds.

Linda Dahl may be a doctor and surgeon, something I will never become, but she definitely managed to be relatable. There was a lot about her struggles to be a part of the community, and about fitting in. I know that I have white privilege, and perhaps have not struggled in the same way she has, but everyone has a part of them that doesn’t fit in, and this book addresses that in a very honest way. Throughout the memoir, Linda also managed to be funny and witty, eliciting loud laughter from me (even in settings where it was inappropriate, such as my work desk). While her writing wasn’t very lyrical or literary, it was down to earth and refreshing.

Another thing that I absolutely loved about Tooth and Nail was the built in medical lessons. While sometimes they were written in a condescending, braggy tone (“look at all this information I can rattle off the top of my head”), Dahl is a specialist and her knowledge about her specialty leaked through the pages. For someone who is a huge medical nerd like me, it was a real enjoyment.

However, despite Dahl’s constant talk about feeling left out/ not fitting in, some things she wrote made me feel that she wasn’t aware of how much privilege she also has. One of the things that bugged me the most was her writing out speech impediments/ local accents. Stutters were written with a “s-s-stutter” and local accents were plentiful, “mon”. It felt like she saw the people she wrote about in such a way as simply a demographic, rather than real people.

Tooth and Nail also includes some famous boxers including Tyson and Klitshchko. One thing I noticed when reading her accounts of her meetings with famous people is the way she made them into some sort of antagonist. Perhaps that really was her feeling upon meeting them, but for the most part, I got the sense that it was just bashing without any real substance to back up her experiences.

The part that made me the most upset with the memoir is Dahl’s journey with her own sexuality. Dahl went on and on and on about it. I get it. Many careers (particularly male dominated ones) are rife with sexism and harassment. I totally agree with her feelings on the way that men would treat her. However her solution (and yes, spoiler alert here)? Absolutely not something that I would want my future daughter using. Everyone has their own experience and does things their own way, but to dress up as a dominatrix-like doctor, to lower your neckline, just to give yourself legitimacy, does not sit right with me. Once again, I totally understand that for Dahl, this was how she made herself feel powerful, but I don’t think that women should feel that sexualizing themselves is the solution to legitimacy and success.

In other words, this book got a three star review from me, because despite being a wonderful memoir, there were a couple issues I just couldn’t get over. I would recommend this book to boxing fans, or fans of medical memoirs, but aside from that this is definitely a one-time read for me.


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