ISLIP, New York. When Burt Sherman suffered a fractured shoulder in a skiing accident last winter, his doctor insisted he take time off from work and not try to soldier through the injury as he had in the past. “Burt loves being an actuary,” says Mel Carnow, his primary care physician. “I can’t blame him, reading fascinating statistics about people being killed when riding lawn mowers flip over on them.”
“CAUTION: Do not ride the E-Z Care Mower-King on aquatic surfaces.”
But when Sherman returned six weeks later after rest and physical therapy, he found the workplace at Modern Moosehead Insurance changed, changed utterly as poet W. B. Yeats would say.
“I can’t help it if I’m perky!”
“They’d brought in a replacement who was more pleasant and efficient than me,” he says about Carole Pennington, a perky 28-year old just three years out of business school. “I try to make everybody’s day a little brighter,” Pennington says with an engaging smile that contributed to her selection as Employee of the Month while Sherman was out on medical leave, making her the youngest winner in the company’s history. “I guess Burt could be a bit of a grumpy-butt,” she adds with a slightly abashed smile.
“But I want to be the one who computes the risk of being eaten by albino alligators!”
With fresh blood in the system, Sherman began to look like tired corpuscles, and he retreated to a windowless conference room to lick his wounds; there, his mental health began to decline along with his physical well-being. “He constantly had a sore throat and his hair began to fall out in clumps,” says his wife Joeanne. “No man wants to be told he can be replaced by some ditzy coed who’s young enough to be his babysitter.”
A follow-up appointment with his doctor revealed that Sherman had come down with Wally Pipp’s Disease, named after the first basemen for the New York Yankees who took himself out of the line-up because of a headache, only to relinquish his place in the starting line-up to Lou Gehrig, who went on to play 2,130 consecutive games in a Hall of Fame career.
“Take a seat, Wally.”
“Lou Gehrig’s Disease is a tragedy, slowly robbing its victims of the use of their muscles,” says Carnow as he places a tongue depressor in the depressed Sherman’s mouth. “Wally Pipp disease is more of a black comedy; a trivial health decision has adverse long-term financial consequences, or as Pipp himself said, ‘I took the two most expensive aspirins in history.’”
There is no known cure for Wally Pipp’s Disease, although researchers say a new drug cocktail shows promise. “It is composed of equal parts chewing tobacco and bubble gum,” says Milton Ohrbach, Director of the Institute for the Study of Diseases Named After First Basemen. “When you try to spit it out, it explodes in the face of a relief pitcher.”