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A Mind That Found Itself: An Autobiography

Creator: Clifford Whittingham Beers (author)
Date: 1910
Publisher: Longmans, Green, and Co., New York
Source: Available at selected libraries

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Page 68:


Though there are to-day in this country comparatively few institutions where patients and attendants are fed as well as they deserve, it is my opinion that the several managements are entitled to considerable credit for the great improvement that has been made in this particular department during the past score of years. In many institutions an honest attempt is being made to provide nothing but wholesome food. Unfortunately it is equally true that in some institutions dishonest officials consider the happiness of their charges of so little moment that for a few mean dollars they will barter it away according to the rules of that discredited political game, "Graft." Whenever and wherever the members of a medical or executive staff of a hospital for the insane are dependent upon a political party or political "boss" for their continuance in office, you will be apt to find in operation a pernicious system of perquisites which can be wrung from the State's appropriations only at the expense of the inmates of the hospitals. This "graft," which first strikes at the consciences of the men in authority, at one and the same time strikes the inmates in that most vulnerable spot -- the stomach. Each and every state-appropriated dollar that is diverted by a dishonest manager or management means just so much less comfort for the inmates, who already suffer unnecessary hardships because of inadequate appropriations. The quality and quantity of food provided is sure to be adversely affected. Usually it is the purchasing of supplies which affords the only sure opportunity for "graft," and as a major part of the appropriations must be spent for food, dishonesty, where it exists, affects vitally the well-being of the patients. To the mind of every right-thinking person, the political "grafter," who will wring his mean gains from the very blood of the most unfortunate, is a man deserving of discovery and its consequent disgrace and punishment. I predict that honest legislative investigations will uncover many miserable specimens of humanity who for years have fattened by the emaciation of misery itself.


In arguing for a right quantity and quality of food I do not mean that a State should be expected to provide a great variety. At this stage of hospital development that is of course impossible. But at least an illusion of variety might be created if the menus were not decided upon months in advance. To know that certain articles of food will appear on a certain day of the week, each week, each month, is to rob a patient of that element of surprise which in itself serves as an appetizer.


During the first six months of my confinement at the State Hospital, though I finally grew tired of the food provided and had difficulty in swallowing enough of it to satisfy hunger, the most serious fault I had to find with it was with respect to its quantity. Not until I was admitted to the common dining-room of the ward was I able to satisfy my hunger. Then, for nearly a month -- this after two months of eating in comparative solitude -- I ate two, sometimes three, of the regular portions at each meal. This was not gluttony -- lack of variety, if nothing else, protected me against sinful indulgence. It was occasioned by an instinctive desire to repair the damage done during my period of "seclusion." That my loss in weight already referred to was occasioned more by privation than by my state of mind, or the abuse to which I was subjected, is borne out by an earlier experience; for during my strait-jacket ordeal at the private hospital I was given nourishing food at frequent intervals and I left the padded cell weighing nearly as much as the day I first entered it.


A majority of patients to-day are fed in small dining-rooms connected with the ward in which they happen to be confined. The food is sent from the main kitchen to these centers of distribution and there apportioned and served by attendants. The attendants are supposed to allow the patients a sufficient time to eat their meal, but it frequently happens that certain ones have not finished eating when the attendant in charge says: "All up!" In a violent ward, and sometimes in others, any patient who fails to obey that command invites abuse. More than once have I seen a patient forced to leave a half-eaten meal and quit the room -- or perhaps be forcibly ejected; and I myself have often prudently stowed away in a hurry an adequate amount of food within an uncertain and arbitrarily limited time. One of the most revolting and least justifiable assaults I ever witnessed occurred in the dining-room of the violent ward at the State Hospital. When the patient had been kicked and choked into a state bordering on insensibility the attendants calmly, but breathlessly, returned to their own meal. I shudder when I think of the punishment that would have been mine had circumstances forced me to enter a violent ward during that stage of my illness which was characterized by a continued refusal to eat what was placed before me -- except when my inscrutable impulses directed otherwise. It is my conviction that this book would never have been written had not a "timely generosity" kept me from such abuse while mute and crippled.

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