In 2002, a patient was lying face down on an operating table with an open incision in his back, about three-quarters of the way through an intensive 6-hour-long spinal surgery being performed by Dr. David Arndt at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the surgery, Dr. Arndt repeatedly asked one nurse if she could find out if his paycheck had arrived.
Another surgeon, Lee Troy, entered the operating room and dropped off Arndt’s paycheck for him. Dr. Arndt asked Dr. Troy if he could watch his patient for “about 5 minutes.” Dr. Troy was not credentialed to perform the surgery, nor was he scrubbed in. Troy assumed Arndt needed a quick bathroom break. Arndt then bolted, leaving the hospital to drive to a bank at Harvard Square, a few blocks away from the hospital, to deposit his paycheck before his bank closed. Dr. Arndt was paged several times during his absence. The pages went unanswered. Arndt returned to the operating room about half an hour later. He explained to his startled operating staff that he was in a financial crisis and had to deposit his check to pay outstanding bills, and that the spinal surgery had been running longer than he expected.
The next day, hospital officials reported the incident to the state board and suspended the doctor from working at the hospital. It was deemed that the doctor created an immediate threat when he left his patient anesthetized on an operating table with an open incision in his back. The state board suspended Arndt’s medical license, labeling him a “serious threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public,” despite the fact that Dr. Arndt, in his defense, justified the situation by informing the board that the surgery was successful and that at the time of the event, his patient was stable. When the patient found out about Arndt’s antics during his surgery, he was furious and sued the doctor and hospital for malpractice.
A Speedy Fall From Grace
David Arndt was born into medicine. His father was considered part of Boston’s medical elite as one of the nation’s top dermatologists, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and the author of a dermatology textbook that was required reading for medical students. Gifted with superior surgical skill and his connections, Arndt was on the fast track to becoming one of Massachusetts’ finest spine surgeons. Many who knew him wondered what went wrong. Little did they know that Dr. Arndt would continue to self-destruct in a manner that was unimaginable. Within 2 months after having his license suspended and suffering professional embarrassment, Dr. Arndt was charged with raping a child, drug possession, and indecent assault.
Warning signs of Dr. Arndt’s decline were present years before the insane stunt he pulled during the spinal surgery that cost him his medical license. In 1992, while in Harvard Medical School, he met a faculty member, Steve Goldfinger. The two struck up a serious relationship and moved in together. (Arndt was previously married to a woman from India, but the couple divorced after 4 years of marriage.) Because Arndt was a student, Goldfinger offered to pay most of Arndt’s living, travel, and entertainment expenses, which were substantial, as the two lived a lavish lifestyle together. Goldfinger had this arrangement spelled out in a legal document, which stated that Arndt would pay Goldfinger 9% of his income for a period of 15 years, with a cap of $500,000. The payments were to begin in 1998. Arndt signed on the dotted line, but he eventually broke up with Goldfinger and refused to pay him any money when 1998 arrived. Arndt went to court to have the agreement invalidated, claiming it was signed under duress. (The case dragged through court and arbitration for 2 years; in 2000, a Superior Court judge upheld the agreement. However, to this day, Goldfinger has never collected a single cent from Arndt.)
In 1998, Arndt was now living with another domestic partner, Alfredo Fuentes, a Venezuelan who was in the country illegally. To avoid deportation, Fuentes submitted a passport application under a false name. Arndt filed a supporting affidavit for his live-in lover. The ruse didn’t work. Arndt pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor passport violation and was sentenced to 3 years’ probation and fined $3000. He took a bullet for his friend. However, it seemed that Fuentes didn’t appreciate that Arndt went out on a limb for him. Arndt secretly followed Fuentes to the house of another man and watched what was going on through a window. When the other man blew out some candles in the room, Arndt became enraged and broke into the house, tearing through a screen window. Arndt punched the other man in the head, tossed a chair at him, and threw him out of the bedroom. Arndt was charged with malicious destruction of property, burglary, and assault and battery. But because he was making a lot of money as a spine surgeon, the victim agreed not to press charges if Arndt paid him $30,000 and also agreed to attend weekly anger-management classes. Arndt agreed. (As you may expect, Arndt didn’t following through on counseling, and only paid the victim $18,700.)
In 2001, Arndt didn’t show up for a scheduled spine surgery. The hospital staff was unable to locate him. He later claimed that he had overslept. This brings us up to the 2002 check-cashing incident. Arndt’s downward spiral was swirling faster and faster. About 1 month afterward, Arndt was driving in Cambridge through Central Square. He stopped his car and invited 2 boys to come inside to get high with him. One boy was 14 years old; the other was 15. Allegedly, he dropped off the 14-year-old boy and had sex in his car with the 15 year old. The boys reported the incident and gave police Arndt’s cell phone number. When questioned, Arndt admitted giving the boys a ride but said he had no physical contact with either of them, other than brushing one boy’s shoulders.
In 2003, Arndt signed for a suspicious 6-pound express mail package, but federal authorities had been waiting to see who picked it up. Inside the box was a pink penis-shaped piñata that contained 2 pounds of methamphetamine. Arndt was arrested and charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
The ugly incidents continued. In all, Arndt was charged with possession of ketamine hydrochloride (special K) and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute those drugs, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, indecent assault and battery, drugging a person for sexual intercourse, and 4 counts of statutory rape. All his troubles were eventually traced to a severe substance abuse problem.
Arndt is currently serving time in prison. As an inmate, he has converted to ultra-orthodox Judaism; he stays kosher, wears a beard, keeps his head covered, and follows hundreds of rules that govern all aspects of his life.
- Dr. Arndt’s background. Healthgrades website. http://www.healthgrades.com/physician/dr-david-arndt-2322s/background-check#BackgroundBackgroundCheck_anchor.
- Ervin J. The 5 Most terrifying ways doctors went crazy on the job. Cracked website. July 22, 2012. http://www.cracked.com/article_19931_the-5-most-terrifying-ways-doctors-went-crazy-job.html.
- Surgeon who left an operation to run an errand is suspended. New York Times website. August 9, 2002. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/08/09/us/surgeon-who-left-an-operation-to-run-an-errand-is-suspended.html.
- Swidey N. For a fallen surgeon, a higher power. Boston Globe website. February 28, 2010. http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/magazine/articles/2010/02/28/for_a_fallen_surgeon_a_higher_power/.
- Swidey N. What went wrong? Boston Globe website. March 21, 2004. http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/articles/2004/03/21/what_went_wrong/.