Friday, September 2, 2011

The Case Of The Meth-Addled Spine Surgeon

Fast on the heels of Dr. Richard Sharpe comes the equally strange case of Dr. David Arndt. Although Dr. Arndt has not yet murdered anyone, he may be even scarier than Dr. Sharpe. For one thing, he is (or was) a surgeon - a profession bound to bring out the willies in the best of us. Think of the Jeremy Irons character (or characters, actually, since they were twins) in Dead Ringers. Ee-uuuwww... Not to mention all those horrifying healers of B movie infamy, always re-attaching severed heads to the wrong bodies or keeping them alive all by their lonesome. Frankenstein, too, don't forget. Ditto The Reanimators.

In the summer of 2002, Dr. Arndt made news by skipping out on a patient in the middle of an operation - a spine operation, mind you - to cash a check. He returned 35 minutes later, and eventually finished the operation, but the damage to both the patient and his reputation had been done. He was quickly suspended from Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. Shortly afterward, his medical license was suspended and the tale of his surgical siesta went viral. Law suits followed. To be fair, spine operations can often take 8 to 10 hours to perform, even as long as 18 hours in some cases. Such work must require incredible stamina, both mental and physical, but surely there are limits. Surgeons are known to excuse themselves to go to the bathroom, for instance - and no one gets upset about that. To cash a check though... That almost makes the dude seem like a caricature of the greedy medico.

And that's not all. Less than a month after the check-cashing incident, Arndt was charged "with four counts of statutory child rape and one count each of indecent assault and battery, drugging a person for sexual intercourse, contributing to the delinquency of a child, and possession of the drugs ketamine hydrochloride ('Special K') and methamphetamine." It turns out he had picked up a couple of teenaged boys - aged 14 and 15 - in Cambridge's Central Square and held a kind of drugs-and-sex party in his car. He later gave the kids his cell phone number, which gave the coppers the tool they needed to entrap the perv.

And that's not all either. A year later, Arndt "was arrested on August 8 [2003] and charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute." Apparently, he had rented a room in a South End hotel and had ordered a package sent to him there under the alias "Frank Castro" via Federal Express. Unfortunately for him, the postal authorities found the package "suspicious" and obtained a warrant to open it. It contained "a large, pink penis-shaped pinata" which itself contained two pounds of meth.

As the Boston Globe says, these are stressful times for physicans, they often feel compelled to work way too hard, often turning to drugs and alcohol as a result, even - in many cases - using drugs like meth (or "speed") to help them work all those long hours. Dr. Arndt just had the misfortune of derailing himself far more luridly than the average addict with an M.D.

One thing Arndt had in common with Dr. Sharpe was an unconventional and rather flamboyant sexuality. While Dr. Sharpe was a cross-dresser, Dr. Arndt was a clearly out-of-control homosexual. In addition to picking up underaged boys for sex, he had also made unwelcome passes at male orderlies and nurses, and had even committed assault on one of his boyfriends. Had he been heterosexual, his behavior could have been equally bad, but it would not have contributed quite as much to his notoriety.

Dr. Arndt definitely falls in that category of Boston area bad guys whose criminality represents the flip side of brilliance. The son of a prominent Harvard Medical School professor and extremely bright in his own right, Arndt was almost hard-wired to follow a medical career. In fact, he came to medicine relatively late and via a winding path. Born in 1960, he graduated high school during the still hippy-dippy 1970's and made his way west to San Francisco, where he attended a now-defunct "alternative college", counseled the homeless and discovered his sexuality. Eventually his medical destiny drew him back to Boston, but not after he had evolved into a full-blown non-conformist. This extreme non-conformity, coupled with his intellectual arrogance, made a serious conflict with society's norms almost inevitable.

As of February 2010, Arndt was still in federal prison, serving out a 10 year sentence. He claims to have found God (but not Jesus), as "Arndt is now an ultra-Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher, wears a beard, keeps his head covered, works to follow hundreds of commandments governing all aspects of life, and spends the bulk of the day in prayer or studying ancient Jewish texts." Well, whatever it takes to keep him out of trouble.

What Went Wrong? (Boston Globe)
For a fallen surgeon, a higher power (Boston Globe)

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