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September 22, 2003
Santana was doing so well. All the feedings and all the cat vitamins and all the IV hydrations seemed to be working. But then I went away on a three-day speaking engagement and came home to find that he had vomited a few times-- a bad sign. That the litter box was nearly empty -- another one.

It may be that Q didn't know how to insist that Santi swallow the food that is crucial to the healing of his dangerous liver condition -- he's supposed to eat six or eight times a day. He doesn't want to, and so he must be fed with a syringe. He doesn't like it. You have to insist. He doesn't like that, either.

I have thrown caution to the winds on this cat: I adore him. He is a big boy -- fifteen pounds, and that's down from what he was a month ago. That's what a human baby weighs at six months. I pick him up and hold him against my shoulder, and he feels like a human baby -- except for the fur. It has been a long time since I had a baby who needed me as much as Santi needs me. His warm furry body, his loud purr, his nuzzling -- I'm hooked.

I won't give up without a fight. Back to the frequent feedings, whether he likes it or not. Hydration twice a day, for a little while. This is a setback, and a serious one, but I won't let him go. I wonder at my ferocity. I hold the cat, put my nose against his nose, bury my face in his fur. I tell him he's a good boy. The best boy. The best cat in the world. One of the truly great cats.

Actually, this wild love isn't so mysterious. I have two grown children, but I would have had three. If my son had lived, he would be a year younger than Anna and seven years younger than Corinna. The sisters would dote on him, the way our friends Bridget and Mary dote on their brother Will. He would be opening stubborn jars for me when he was home, and bringing his laundry, all in a bag, to do down in the basement. I would be fixing his eggs the special way he liked them -- I never got to find out what that special way was going to be. Whether he was a coffee or a tea drinker. Who he was going to be. He didn't make it into this world, not even for one breath of our air. I never knew what happened, or why. I carried on into the remainder of my life wondering, sometimes, if I had lifted something the wrong way, or eaten something wrong. Wasn't I careful enough? Nobody has ever answered.

Santi feels like a second chance. I know this is absurd, and I have decided that I don't care. I will give him the gift of life I couldn't give my own child. It doesn't seem important to me that he is not even a member of my species. He is small and needs help to live -- and this time it is help I can give. That's more than enough.

I have another speaking engagement this week. Two, in fact. Q will help, emboldened by the seriousness of the setback. Anna will come and help - Santi is her cat, after all. I am only his grandmother, enlisted in the effort because Santi was staying with us and can't be moved. If need be, the vet says he can come there and they will take over. If devotion can accomplish this, he will be all right.

I tell Tom about feline hepatic lipidosis. Tom is a doctor, one who treats humans: children, with life-threatening diseases. We are both aware of the utter luxury in which we live, being able to gain access to such complete medical care -- for human or for animal. Tom wonders if the cost of one or two B52s might not usefully be diverted to medical care for everyone -- that amount of money would do it, handily. I tell him that sounds like a good idea to me. Why it does not seem like a basic right to everyone is just beyond me, but -- manifestly -- it does not. Universal health care is controversial. You will have to ask its opponents precisely why that is. Beats me.

I drive home to Santi. Q has fed him, rather successfully, he says. There has been no more vomiting. Good. We feed him again, and give him his pill, and hydrate him with the IV bag. Santi lies quietly between us, purring as the fluid drips into his body. Then, when he has had enough, we withdraw the needle and cap it. There will be a clean one for tomorrow morning. There is a clean one every time.
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