Can I Spit in your Lemon Cake?

I needed some peace after the interviews. After all, I was a teenager in a foreign and what I believed to be a hostile place. And yet something seemed familiar about it all.

My biggest issue was with the health aides or psych technicians. These folks are on the lowest rung of the hospital system. They are often poorly paid and have little training – other than learning to restrain patients who lose control of themselves. Their job is to keep the unit peaceful.

Snack time was a crucial part of the day, not only because it broke up a monotonous schedule, but also because it created an enjoyable experience for patients. The daily ritual even gave patients a moment to savor during a time of their lives they probably want to forget.

One day an event would forever change snack time for me. This snack time began like any other. There were casual conversations about rounds between patients, hopeful talk about possible discharge dates, and discussions of changes in medication. The lemon cake was plentiful, and the patients could get a second helping without consulting the nutritionist.

I was eating my own snack, dedicated to savoring every morsel when one person at the table turned to another person and said, “Can I spit in your lemon cake?”

A few moments later, he asked again, “Can I spit in your lemon cake?” This time he was louder and sounded more threatening. The aides moved in and surrounded the table. Fearing snack time was headed towards an unfortunate early dismissal, I shoveled the last of my lemon cake into my mouth while four gigantic men informed this patient he had to stop asking if he could spit in the other patient’s cake.

The aides dragged the patient out of the cafe, returned him to his room, and restrained him on the bed without blinking. Now, I’ve seen many a restraint in my day, but never over dessert.

Snack time was precious to us all. Despite the many things going wrong in our lives, during our little slice of snack time peace, we forgot about our problems. But this snack time was interrupted by a misunderstanding about cake.

Edited: Autumn Tompkins


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