Can I Spit in your Lemon Cake?

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


J. Peters

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association. Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia. "I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others." "In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."

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2 thoughts on “Can I Spit in your Lemon Cake?

  1. I love this! Thanks for sharing. What an interesting to discuss mental health.

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