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Surgeon stepped out to cash check

Published Aug. 10, 2002
Updated Sep. 3, 2005

A surgeon whose license was suspended after he left a patient on the operating table while he ran a check to the bank owed large payments to a former domestic partner.

Dr. David Arndt was ordered after a court battle to pay Dr. Stephen Goldfinger, a psychiatrist, a portion of his income for 15 years after they broke up in 1994, court records show.

Arndt challenged the agreement and lost. He was ordered to pay court fees and other costs up to $25,000, and to continue to make support payments up to $500,000 to Goldfinger.

According to the state Board of Registration in Medicine, Arndt was six hours into spinal fusion surgery at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge on July 10 when he told the operating staff that he needed to "step out." His patient was anesthetized and his back was cut open at the time.

The board said Arndt cashed a check at a bank about a mile away, returned about 35 minutes later and completed the operation.

Although the unidentified patient was resting comfortably after a successful spinal fusion procedure, the state board on Wednesday labeled Arndt "an immediate and serious threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public."

The board indefinitely suspended Arndt's medical license Wednesday. Hospital officials had reported the matter to the board.

According to the allegations, Arndt failed to answer several pages while he was gone. The general surgeon he had asked to wait was not credentialed to perform spinal fusion surgery and was not scrubbed in. Nurses and the anesthesiologist summoned supervisors, and soon the chief of anesthesia, the chief of orthopedics and the chief of surgery were consulted.

They decided to wait for Arndt and agreed not to mention the incident until he had completed the procedure. He returned after about 35 minutes, according to the board, and completed the operation about two hours later.

Arndt initially seemed "surprised" that the anesthesiologist was upset by his absence, and explained that he had to get to the bank before it closed because he was in "a financial crisis" and had to pay overdue bills.

He asked a surgical technician if she was angry with him, she told the board. She answered, "I would not want you to leave my mother on the table."

On Tuesday, he told the board's investigator that he regretted his actions and had "exercised remarkably horrible judgment."

"David has had a checkered personal history and it has rolled over into his professional life," said Dr. Hyman Glick, an orthopedic surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who helped train Arndt.

Arndt's lawyer, Claudia Hunter, said Arndt would appeal the suspension. She called him "a competent and skilled orthopedic surgeon," adding he regretted his actions.

Court records say that Arndt, 41, and Goldfinger met in 1983 and began living together. Goldfinger, 10 years older and more established in his profession, paid many of Arndt's expenses while he studied to be a doctor, the records say.

The Boston Herald reported that the medical board was considering disciplining Arndt over a 1998 misdemeanor conviction in Louisiana for filing a false statement to help a friend with immigration problems.

He also is licensed to practice medicine in Louisiana.

_ Information from the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe was used in this report.