The Team Doctor

Watching the Super Bowl 2019 last Sunday brought up a memorable moment for me in my medical career. I was thinking not only about the teams on the field but also the teams on the sidelines.

What I know about American football is really microscopic as I did not grow up in the US. My sporting passion was soccer. By that I mean I used to watch avidly the FIFA (Soccer) World Cup every four years along with billions of people around the world.

I once watched the Super Bowl at the Rio de Janeiro Intercontinental hotel when I was working for the US consulate in that beautiful city. I never liked the constant stoppage time during the game. The fact that the whole thing lasts four hours is not exactly an easy selling point for my impatient nature.

As a token of friendship, my wife and I accept yearly invitations from our American friends to watch the game that they have been looking forward to since day one of the season. It is quite an event, along with its incumbent super-ads, where we comment on the best ones, while waiting patiently for the half-time show and some famous singer or band to entertain the crowds in huge pyrotechnic splendor.

Anyway, this year, the memory of attending my first football game came flooding back to me. It was years ago when I was still a young resident in general surgery at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. I was asked to be the high school football team doctor. I had to be there on Saturdays and they were going to pay me $50 each week, a handsome fee in the late seventies. At least it was a handsome fee for me.

I arrived on time. I was in awe at the players, big and corpulent, their sizes enhanced by a huge and colorful helmet, padding all over their bodies and their faces painted as I had seen in Westerns when the Indians had their war paint on, and looking rather frightening.

I had never seen a game of football in person and only once on television. So I asked the coach who had invited me, what I had to do. He looked strangely at me and replied “Just watch the ball”. Ok, so not a man of too many words. I stood on the sidelines. I had invited a friend of mine, a Brazilian who lived in Rio but who, like me, had no idea about the game. We were talking among ourselves when all of a sudden I saw a group of about 10 or more players in full kit running toward us. Apparently, the ball had been thrown in our direction and being distracted by the nothingness of our conversation, we hadn’t notice what was going on with the game. It was by a miracle this pack did not take us down as we began to sprint away from the action.

After that, I decided to pay full attention to the game, more for my own protection than out of interest in the game, which seemed less interesting than I thought.

Next to us were many students and families who were engrossed in the game and focusing on their particular son or brother’s performance. Some of the crowd were shouting “Come on Big D! Come on Big D!” I wondered who this big D was and why he seemed to have a lot of cheering fans? I asked the guy next to me. He looked at me as if I had just landed from Mars and said “Big Defense, man”. How embarrassing really. Then others shouted “Come on Big Foot!”. I rattled my brain but could not figure out what Big Foot meant in the football game vocabulary. So I asked another guy, not the same one of course as I was mortified for not knowing the obvious Big D thing. The other guy looked at me and said simply “Big Foot is that guy over there with big feet!”.

So back to the game. A player got hurt. I rushed to see him or rather they rushed him to me. He had fallen badly as usually happens in this game and they wanted to know what to do. He seemed in a great deal of pain and I thought he might need an X-Ray so I suggested calling an ambulance. His coach went berserk. Taking him off the field when he was the team captain and an invaluable player was obviously not an option. Of course, he was sent back on. The rest of the time, I had almost nothing to do there medically.

They never called me again for another Saturday or any other day for that matter and my interest in being the team doctor for an American Football team has never been ignited since. Now I just enjoy the Super Bowl, the ads, the half-time show, the food, the camaraderie and do not have to worry about Big D or Big Foot.

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