Years ago, one of my daughter's cats contracted feline hepatic lipidosis, a disease of the liver which is usually fatal. He pulled through under a regimen of eight tiny meals a day, administered with a feeding syringe, and daily IV hydration. I was his caregiver. Santana finally did go home to Jesus last year, at the age of 22. This essay from 2003 remembers that illness and its aftermath.
October 23, 2003
I think Santana the cat is fully recovered. I think this because he is walking along the backs of chairs, leaping onto my little prayer desk and knocking over my icons, singeing his tail on the candle in front of the one to the Virgin Mary. He pulls the leaves off plants and eats them, seemingly for the express purpose of making himself vomit on the rug. Sometimes he does the same thing with plastic bags, so we have to keep all the doors shut to rooms that contain wastebaskets. He attempts to sniff the bottoms of the girl cats, an overture that truly alarms them. He sits in the bathroom and watches Q shave, sits on the edge of the bathtub and watches my bubble baths. Trots downstairs with us in the morning. Comes back up whenever one of us goes upstairs. Helps me write my eMos by jumping onto my lap and preventing me from typing.
It is time for Santi to go home to New York. Where everyone behaves like that.
Except for one thing: he still refuses to eat or drink on his own. No bowl, no saucer, no dry food or canned food, no matter what. He will not self-feed. So I am still feeding him four or five times a day with a plastic feeding syringe, shooting one tiny bite of food after another into his mouth, into the treacherous space just behind his left fang, a space studded with razor-sharp teeth. I was afraid of this: Santi has become used to having breakfast in bed. He now insists on it.
What is that saying? That if you give a cat a syringe of food, he'll eat today, but if you teach him to feed himself with a syringe he'll go back to his apartment in New York? Something like that.
We call his human mother most nights, so Santi can purr into the phone and Anna can tell him what a fine cat he is. His brother, Benito, usually gets on, too, and meows to him. Incredibly, we are all university graduates.
Oh, yes, it is time. High time. But what warm furry little body will lie in the crook of my arm as we both sleep? In whose soft fur can I bury my face briefly as I pass by, murmuring nonsense about who is a good boy, who is the best boy? What small warm creature will make me feel almost like I have a baby again, a boy baby, like my little boy baby who did not live past the day of his birth so long ago? For a month or two, it has been as if I had found again what had been lost. I have thought of it every time I have cuddled or fed Santi. It was as if I had my baby back again. How foolish. But how completely sweet, sweet as a dream of the dead come back to smile tenderly at us one more time.
Maybe Santi has been a dream. We have such dreams now and then.