Recently, I have lived through a series of very severe health issues relating to my nervous system. I will most assuredly go into greater detail about this matter in subsequent blogs, as these medical nightmares have dominated the majority of my life and attention for more than a year now.
But allow me to offer a very quick summation -- in April 2018, I suffered a sudden, freak incident that involved the peripheral nerves in my arms and hands. I had been having some slightly annoying and befuddling difficulties with my hands for months -- tingling, slight numbness, and occasional troubles with guitar playing that were highly unusual for me. I was alarmed, but the problems were intermittent and by no means severe enough to warrant a DEFCON 1 response on my part.
Disaster seemed a long way off, until suddenly it wasn't.
I went to sleep on April 10, 2018, and woke up in the middle of the night with no feeling in my hands whatsoever. Even the very sensation of having hands was completely gone. In the place of hands felt like dead weight -- almost as though someone had sewn the flesh of a cadaver to the ends of my arms. These lifeless and foreign bodies just dangled there, unfeeling, and for the most part, unmovable. At first, I believed they were just "asleep", but despite my best efforts, they never woke up.
For more weeks than I can even count, my hands were completely numb, useless, and dead. To be sure, this condition would be unimaginably terrifying for just about anyone. But for a guitar player (especially one who was not only planning on releasing a long-overdue album, but was also hard at work on a brand new record), this was an especially dark corner of hell in which to reside. It took many months of fighting with everything I had to finally regain the use of my hands, and eventually, reacquire the ability to play guitar. (I still have some problems with pain and numbness -- and may eventually require some surgeries -- but I can play again. And for the most part, I can play just as well as I could before the incident.)
I also began to make amazing alterations to my life: better eating, better sleeping hours (no more extremely late nights on weekends), abstaining from alcohol, an hour a day of meditation, daily exercise that consisted of walking seven miles, and on top of all of that, I began to study computer coding. It was, by far, the happiest I have ever been.
But then, almost precisely one year after the initial attack, my health issues struck again -- this time, apparently affecting my autonomic nervous system, among other things. This second assault on my body was so severe, it made the loss of my hands feel like the good old days.
This second attack happened very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that I wasn't even aware that anything serious was happening at all. It began as cold symptoms. Unlike with the opening salvos of the first attack, this time, I was not only simply relatively unalarmed. I was completely oblivious to the fact that anything even potentially serious was happening. At first, there was simply no indication that this was anything more than a cold.
Again, I will go into greater detail not only later in this blog, but in future entries as well. I just wanted to set up the back story for the following post.
Throughout the last 15 months or so (I've honestly lost count at this point), I have dealt with dozens of doctors. Most mediocre, some truly wonderful, and still others have been utterly horrific.
The following is a review of the worst doctor I have ever met in my life. The reason it is being posted here on my official blog is only because the character limit was too great for all the review sites upon which I attempted to post this. (And I'm refusing to truncate this by a single syllable.)
So, dear reader, allow me to introduce you to Dr. Ralph Cifaldi of Hawthorne, NJ.
Not only is Dr. Cifaldi the most miserably inadequate physician with whom I've had the misfortune of crossing paths, he is also perhaps the most contemptible man with whom I have ever dealt. And in this instance, I am using the word "man" quite loosely.
Recently, I decided to switch careers, and in doing so, I was forced onto Medicaid and taken off of my modest but comparably magnificent insurance plan.
Dr. Cifaldi was my assigned primary care physician. His practice was right near where I live, and despite his lukewarm online reviews, I had no particular misgivings about giving the man a chance.
Over the winter and spring months of this year (2019), I had slowly developed a very severe health condition that, while still officially undiagnosed, is now believed to have been a serious and very rare reaction to medication(s) I had been on, coupled with a pre-existing neurological issue. At first, it caused mostly nasal congestion and sinus pressure. But quickly, it developed into a debilitating and ever-present headache, shooting pains in my face and head, shortness of breath, a feeling of my heart racing and pounding out of my chest (especially upon standing), and such severe insomnia that I would regularly spend 72 hours wide awake, only to pass out for a mere three or so hours -- and then repeat the same process, over and over again, for weeks and weeks on end.
I went to Dr. Cifaldi four times for this condition. At first (when the symptoms were still mostly sinus-oriented), he prescribed me a powerful antibiotic. It didn't work. I didn't fault him at all.
So I went back for a second visit, this time with symptoms growing increasingly worse, and my body slowly deteriorating from lack of sleep. Cifaldi, apparently pathologically incapable of having a conversation without incessantly interrupting, barely spent a single minute listening to my explanation of how my symptoms were becoming more alarming. He believed that I was likely suffering from an allergy, so he prescribed a medrol dose pack. It seemed to help a bit for about two days, but quickly the hellish symptoms not only resumed, but continued to increase in intensity until they finally exploded into the full gamut that I described above. I still did not fault Dr. Cifaldi. I thought his lack of listening skills and arrogance were off-putting, but as a doctor he seemed to be making more or less the right calls, relatively speaking.
I went in for a third visit, this time a clearly shattered simulacrum of a human being, in an unremitting state of agony.
Yet Dr. Cifaldi seemed shockingly unconcerned -- and more than that, appallingly uncompassionate. At the time, he emitted the distinct impression that what I really needed was to just "be a man and suck it up". (Though, of course, he never said these words and I would not defame him by attributing them to him. It was simply a vibe he seemed to be transmitting.)
Worse than that, he seemed content to simply shrug his shoulders and move on with his life. He appeared more than ready to throw in the towel, but he did refer me to an ENT.
Just to be fair, as far as the medical decisions Cifaldi had made thus far as a doctor were concerned (divorced from the glaring flaws in his obviously pathological personality), I still couldn't entirely fault him as incompetent. However though, his lack of both compassion and intellectual curiosity, coupled with what I perceived as a "just suck it up, you wimp" kind of tough guy mentality, more than annoyed me.
Meanwhile, my condition had gone from unbearable to completely unlivable. I couldn't wait the month and a half till my appointment with the ENT. I spent days in the hospital, yet no one was able to figure out what was going wrong with me.
At that point, desperate beyond words and having absolutely zero faith in Dr. Cifaldi's shoulder-shrugging and finger-wagging, my family and I decided to pay out of pocket for a consultation with a reputable doctor in NYC, who not only took my problems as deadly seriously as they were, but was also able to steer us in the right direction toward a diagnosis. He was patient, caring, answered all of our questions, and was generally everything you'd want in a doctor.
After meeting with the NYC doctor, I went back to Dr. Cifaldi for a fourth time so that I could gather up the litany of referrals I would need in order to get to the bottom of this miserable mystery.
This was when Cifaldi's true nature finally reared its disgusting head. I showed up with my mother, because by then, lack of sleep and constant pain had robbed me of my full faculties of articulation and concentration, so I needed trusted family members to help me through doctor visits.
Without the slightest hint of concern or compassion, Cifaldi immediately began to excoriate my mother and I for paying out of pocket for an expensive doctor. (I also have to note the screamingly obvious jealousy he radiated throughout his little tirade - "I only get $900 when I perform a hysterectomy on a woman, yet this guy makes $1200 for a consult?!" -- Oh yeah, not only is Cifaldi a primary care physician, he's also an OB/GYN. There is something about that fact that I, personally, find deeply and almost comically unsettling.)
It did not take a mind-reader to know what Cifaldi was thinking during this fourth consultation. With every breath, every nonverbal bodily communication, every eye roll, every nastily-toned comment or question, it was clear what he thought of me and my situation: "Look at this guy. He's a mess. He's out of his mind. This is all clearly a mental issue. This kid is a loser. This kid needs to get his life together. This kid is a crazy person."
In fairness, I certainly looked like a crazy person -- my hair had grown out, my beard was long and unkempt, I had dark circles under my eyes, and I was having a difficult time of adequately articulating myself. Again, though -- I hadn't slept in well over a month and I was in constant pain. (I wonder what Cifaldi thinks he would look like during the very worst moments of his entire life.)
So instead of making use of some out-of-the-box thinking, instead of illustrating even the slightest modicum of compassion -- instead of employing any single, solitary thing of use whatsoever, Cifaldi instead rendered himself a ceaseless fount of snap judgments and half-baked advice.
He began to ask prying questions about my life that were only very marginally relevant to a doctor-patient relationship. (And moreover, these questions had almost nothing whatsoever to do with the pressing situation at hand.) It was not hard to see that the "great man" with whom I was dealing had already made up his mind that I was fabricating and/or greatly exaggerating my symptoms.
When I asked him about my rapid heart rate (which, around this time was routinely instantly spiking up to the range of 140-155 BPMs, just from the "exertion" of moving to a standing position), he turned to my mother (not even to me) and dismissively replied, "He's just nervous."
In one of my answers to one of his many prying questions, I briefly mentioned that I no longer drink alcohol. His immediate response was, "So, you're an alcoholic." (Nothing could be further from the case, but I didn't owe him an explanation then, and I certainly don't owe one here and now.)
When I explained that I had decided to switch careers and that I am now studying computer programming, he responded in a firm and authoritative tone, "I don't care if you have to bag groceries, you better get off your ass and get yourself a job."
It was like a stern lecture from an idiot stepfather caricature so cartoonish, it was hard to believe that this was actually happening. It was as surreal as it was shameful. Cifaldi was smug, avuncular, and downright narcissistic.
He clearly believed that what I needed was a stern talking-to and some tough love from a father figure. What I really needed was a halfway competent doctor.
Thankfully, through much trial and error, I did find a few competent and caring doctors who gave me the help I so desperately needed -- no thanks at all to Cifaldi. (One of those doctors is a neurologist by the name of Dr. Charles Asta -- I plan on writing a blog about my wonderful experience with him. I regret that my blog is becoming the collection of horrors that it has been shaping up to be. But it's just been a crazy and scary few years for me.)
And on top of finding great help from some very competent and honorable doctors, I seem to be continuing to slowly heal each and every day. I am very hopeful that I will be making a full recovery in due time.
If you have made it this far into this review, and I have somehow not convinced you that Dr. Cifaldi is a woefully pitiful doctor and an even more atrocious human being, please go ahead and book an appointment with him. Let him convince you himself.
After mulling through the reviews on the site vitals.com, my family and I came across one regarding Dr. Cifaldi from November 4th, 2015, entitled "Totally Inappropriate". In her entry, the reviewer described Cifaldi's unsolicited creepy, weird, and (at least according to every doctor I've heard discuss the matter) pseudoscientific advice to stick yogurt in her vagina if she should happen to wind up with a yeast infection from the sinus infection antibiotics he administered to her.
Since then, my family and I no longer refer to Cifaldi by his real name. Instead, we call him Dr. Yogurt, reminding ourselves that this man, who was a momentary menace in our lives, is ultimately nothing but a goofy, incompetent, weak, buffoon of a man. And so that's how Dr. Yogurt will remain in our collective memory -- as the pathetic joke that he is.