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August 30, 2003
...and feed him six to eight times a day, the vet concluded. The more he eats, the better. In small amounts.

It's hard to feed a cat who doesn't want to eat. It's hard to do it once. It's really hard to do it six times a day. We got a feeding syringe, sort of like a fat plastic hypodermic needle. The first few feedings left us both bleeding from multiple puncture wounds and covered with cat food. But we have gotten better at it. No cat food on the floor this last time at all, and hardly any on me. Only one puncture wound, and it didn't bleed. And Santana, though he still hates it, has gotten more resigned to it. Once in a while, I even think he likes the food we're giving him. And the weird special water with electrolytes in it that we give him in a medicine dropper. And the vile-looking vitamin goop we smear on his nose so he can lick it off.

A 50/50 chance is what the vet gives him, based on his experience with cats that have this liver condition. My feeling is that the 50% who succumb simply wear out their people with all the feedings. I understand this will go on for six weeks.

The last person I fed so assiduously and so often was Santana's human mommy, Anna. That was much easier: all I had to do was unbutton my blouse. And Anna didn't resist or scratch, either, although she did bite down once when she was teething, eliciting a screech that probably scared her out of a year's growth. So Anna probably should be 5'8" now, instead of 5'6". My fault.

I lay Santana in the crook of one knee, like I did with my babies. He can't use a baby spoon, but the syringe is working well. Each mouthful that he eats is a victory for me, and I hold my breath on each one until he swallows. I hold the nape of his neck, like his mother did, so his head is steady. And food goes into him and stays there. I think he's getting better.

I had forgotten how nice it is to be so involved with the feeding of another. It is such a messy project -- you have to love your little customer, or the messiness will be too much for you.

At the nursing home, the diners all gather at their tables. Most are in wheelchairs, not dining chairs. Some have normal looking food, but many have three puddles of pureed food on their plates -- it looks like what we're giving Santana. Someone must help them eat it. Some of them don't want to eat.

PJ is helping her mother eat. Bertha likes food, and doesn't have to eat the food that's like Santana's. Not yet. She does not make a mess. But she is not interested in her food today, says she's had enough when she's hardly had any.

The other old people are fed by the staff. They are cheerful with them, and kind. Some of the diners make a big mess. The staff is cheerful about that, too.

"But you know, I think she eats better when I'm not there," PJ says as we leave after lunch. "I think I may distract her." She used to take her mother out to their favorite restaurant, where all the waitresses know her and like her. They used to have fun. Now Bertha gets anxious there. She doesn't know where she is. "I don't think we can go to Perkins any more," PJ says. Little by little, the pleasures of life are slipping away. Food is one. We come into the world hollering for it at the top of our lungs, and we leave with little interest in it.

In the years of our vigor, we dine in restaurants, take a picnic, stop for an ice cream, buy a perfect peach at the fruit stand on the corner. We talk over food, and we laugh. We count calories and carbs, grams of fat. We worry about portion control. We indulge and promise ourselves exercise. It is hard to imagine a day will come when eating is hard.

I don't know which way Santana is headed. Will his rigorous feeding schedule be the way back into life, or the way out of it? Will he get better, grow stronger and more alert? Or is it too late?

It is worth trying, whatever happens. The organism wants to live, and will endure a great deal in order to do so. The plastic syringe is clean, ready for the next feeding. All of the equipment for the feeding is neatly arranged on a little tray. The neatness of it soothes me -- it counters the uncertainty of the whole feeding project.

I don't know if this will work. But we'll give it our best shot. More than our best, we cannot do. But we can do our best.
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