Thoughts from the sick room

Tiberius, with his breakfast syringes

At four am, awoken from a deep sleep by the need to feed a small person who counts on me for all their substance. Padding down to the kitchen by the light of LED night lights cycling between cyan, green, yellow, I go to the kitchen and mix the meal, standing over the sink. Warming it in the microwave and carefully shaking to make sure no hot-bubbles remain to disturb small and sensitive tummies. Back upstairs, across cold linoleum, to the nursery. “Hello little one,” I call softly into the dark.

But this time, of course, it is not my sweet baby – imperative for a bottle. I will not snuggle a son on my chest while I stare out the darkened window in the lyric trance of the late night feeding. This time, I will scan the floor for more evidence that the food I so carefully place in my cat is not remaining in my cat. Most often, I find it. And then I feed him again. Unromantically, through a syringe in his neck. The stopper is hard to press with the grainy cat food in it. I pet him. He’s got food stuck at spots in his fur (port feeding is harder than you think it would be, and messier). I daydream about coming in one morning to find him vigorously grooming himself to get it off.

Even dying cats like watching squirrels
Even dying cats like watching squirrels

I bounce back and forth between hope and grim suspicion. I think grim suspicion currently has more evidence on its side. Four days after the feeding tube was installed, he is losing ground fast against starvation. He mostly sits in that miserable posture that cats adopt when all is not well with them. He looks at me reproachfully when I present him with real food. “Woman! You know I can’t eat that. I wish I could.” But other times, there’s a little more hope. There’s an appreciative stretch of the neck when I scritch his ears. This morning I have him out with me on the porch, and he seems really quite interested what’s happening out there. But his breathing is also a little too fast and shallow, and his coat is clumping over his revealing bones.

Why do people have pets? I do not lack for people in my life whom I love, and who love me. My caretaker impulses are more than fully satisfied. Why did I want shadowy pawed figures walking through the dream-halls of my sleeping home, purring on the back of couches, or trying to sit on my husband’s head? I do not know.

I do know that these animals teach us life’s great lessons, but without the “life will never be the same again” weight that happens when we learn these lessons with the people in our lives. Tiberius has taught my eldest son to look with both eyes at a sickened, disfigured animal coming from surgery and not turn away his face. I am teaching my son fidelity in nursing and care. He is learning to walk with me between hope and fear – and that sometimes when we are walking that walk we forget for a bit and enjoy what we are doing. Grey is learning to plan for death while hoping for life, and to do so unafraid. I prefer him learning these lessons, in which the heart of humanity is held, on a feline scale before he ever needs them on a human dimension.

So we watch, we hope, we pray for God’s presence to be with those who suffer, and we make those faithful midnight wakings.

And as I wrote, he threw up again. He kept his meager breakfast down for two hours. There’s only one place that road ends, silly Milkstache. But I will walk it with you if that is where you are bound.

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