SI Vault
The doc who tells you what's up
Jim Kaplan
January 12, 1976
If you play the game until it hurts, specialist Robert Nirschl will help to ease those throbbing joints
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January 12, 1976

The Doc Who Tells You What's Up

If you play the game until it hurts, specialist Robert Nirschl will help to ease those throbbing joints

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Nirschl handed me the phone. "Is this guy a quack?" I asked Smith.

"Not at all," Smith said. "A lot of guys have seen him and he's been very helpful. Very few doctors have done the amount of research he has. And I definitely agree with him on positioning. It's very critical."

By now swelling at the thought of the tournaments I would win after seeing this guru, I obtusely suggested to Smith that he must owe his comeback entirely to Nirschl. "Well," he reminded me, "I think I've been playing better, too."

Nirschl brought me further down to earth that afternoon in his parking lot when I took out my racket and began pantomiming strokes for him. His comments ought to be protected under the most sacred canons of doctor-patient confidentiality but won't be. "Your weight's back," he said. "You're not transferring it forward and you're probably rolling your wrist. Your stroke is tentative and the racket's too close to your body." It's a miracle, I thought, that I don't have elbow trouble, too.

I was convinced that poor positioning contributed to my ailment. I'm always late getting to the ball (in high school I was called Snowshoes). Nirschl gave me prescriptions for Butazolidin and a painkiller called Empirin. I was to wear a wristband, take aspirin before playing and do some mild weight lifting. Before leaving Arlington, I was also fed to the Stan Smith heat machines. In a whirlpool, I was given ultrasound, a common practice in which sound waves are sent into the injured muscles to increase circulation. The galvanic stimulator, which pumps direct current into the patient, is not as well known. A couple of wet pads were attached to my wrists, the machine was turned on and my arms began to twitch and shake as 80-100 volts juiced me up. The feeling was more eerie than painful; it was as if a tiny mouse were charging up and down my veins.

As the treatment ended and Nirschl and I prepared to part, I noticed a picture of another doctor, Julius Erving of the New York Nets basketball team, on the wall. Dr. J, who has had knee trouble for years, is attached to a galvanic stimulator before every game.

By now I wasn't sure which doctor was treating me. What would happen next? Would I get a triple-pump cortisone shot? A slam-dunk into the whirlpool? Nirschl stuck out his hand. "Squeeze it," he said. "Harder." There was no pain. The Doctor was doin' it.

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