Madison Square Garden Never Lacks a Doctor in the House: John Grozine

updated 07/09/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/09/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Dr. John Grozine was at his customary post next to the New York Rangers' bench during this year's Stanley Cup hockey finals when he was informed of a possible heart attack in the stands. Though he is 73, Grozine sprinted up the Madison Square Garden steps and knelt over a man who seemed to be in shock. The doctor was unable to elicit any response from the patient until, suddenly, the Rangers scored and the man leapt to his feet, hooting and hollering.

Such miracle cures are rare, but whether it's an apparent cardiac victim who turns out, as this one did, to be having an allergic reaction; a little girl who chips her tooth biting into candy at the circus; or a fan wounded by a cherry bomb at a rock concert, the responsibility is Grozine's if it arises in the Garden. Some five million people a year attend everything from dog shows to kung-fu exhibitions in the country's busiest indoor arena, and Grozine (or one of his three assistants) is always on hand to mend an ailing Knick, Ranger, lion tamer, music star, Garden employee or paying customer. "Sometimes you sit here all day long and do nothing," says Grozine. "And sometimes it gets a little rough."

Grozine's office sees mostly such minor complaints as an inflamed elbow, laryngitis and a sprained finger (the complaint list at a recent circus matinee). On the other hand, the 38-year Garden veteran remembers one night in its previous building when three people died (all of heart attacks).

During 1978's hockey playoffs Grozine delivered the first baby at the current Garden. Although the expectant father was crushed to miss a Rangers' overtime victory, he dutifully accompanied his wife to Grozine's office and witnessed the birth of his 4-pound 8-ounce daughter who was born without the benefit of sterile towels or anesthetic. "It all came back to me," smiles Grozine, who delivered hundreds of babies while interning at New York's St. Clare's Hospital during World War II.

These days Grozine and his assistants suffer an especially fearful case of a common doctors' complaint: potential malpractice suits. Team physicians usually handle nonemergency treatment of athletes. For spectators, standard procedure is a quick call for an ambulance so the patient can be taken to a nearby hospital; Grozine is much more likely to stanch the flow of blood with a dressing than employ sutures that might leave a scar. "I wouldn't touch a patron—especially a woman—unless she was bleeding so profusely that there was danger of hemorrhaging," says the doctor.

But when a hockey player comes off the ice with a gash, the object, says Grozine, is to "sew 'em up and get 'em back on the ice. They may take eight or 10 stitches but it's always, 'Hurry up, doc' " Pro wrestlers, Grozine adds, don't get hurt very often. "They know how to fall, and it's all an act, anyway." Another precept formulated in recent years: Zonked-out kids at rock concerts usually affect remarkable recoveries when their parents are about to be called.

Grozine was born in Italy but came to the U.S. at the age of 6 months. The son of a tailor, he grew up in White Plains before returning to attend medical school at the University of Naples. It was while he was back interning in Manhattan, earning $10 a month, that he began moonlighting at the Garden in 1941, picking up $5 an event. (Nowadays the rate is $100.)

He kept at it part-time even after he became a staff general surgeon at St. Clare's. Grozine did 3,000 or so operations there before he stopped performing surgery in 1974, but he best remembers an appendectomy in 1943. The patient's name was Felice Bromirski and her postoperative care is now in its 36th year. During the last 33 of them she has been known as Mrs. John Grozine.

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