This was the hardest day by far, but that was predictable. After over five days without a crumb of food, it was my lad's fifth birthday party... He has been banging on about the planned 'Dragon Party' since just before he went to bed on his birthday last year, so we had to go all out. I spent the morning making a dragon head out of some excellent green carpet underlay (with some orange for the teeth). My wife fashioned the wings and tail out of an old groundsheet. We were rather proud of the outcome.
My thoughts drifted often over to Guantánamo Bay. In the end all the hunger strikers there are forced to take in nutrition against their will. While my own experience is, I underline, trivial in comparison, it turns out that I could not avoid this fate either.
At Guantanamo, they come for you between the hours of 8pm and 5am (showing 'respect' for Ramadan) with 120 centimetres of tubing, two cans of liquid nutrient, and a 'Forcible Cell Extraction' (FCE) team of guards. You are dragged from your cell, weakened by lack of food, and strapped to a feeding chair (I have a copy of the advertisement, and the manufacturer boasts that it is "Like a Padded Cell on Wheels" - albeit without much padding). There are straps around the ankles, straps around the wrists, one around the waist, and a specially fitted new one to hold the head still.
The corpsman inserts the tubing into your nostril. If you struggle - from either pain, or the fact that you don't want to go through this abuse in the first place - a soldier forcibly restrains your head. The corpsman's latex-sheathed fingers fumble, trying to get the tube in (they have increased the size to allow the liquid to be forced in faster, and they use metal reinforced ones on anyone who tries to bite the tube through). The technicians following their orders must be dodging the reek of ketosis, the breath odour created when the body eats itself, as the prisoner gasps and cries out.
Once the tube is in place, they force in the liquid nutrient. During Ramadan, the time pressure is intense: there are some 48 people who have to have two hits of 220 ml each, taking up to two hours per person, all through the night. The detainees report that the corspmen have taken the valves off some of the tubes so that there is no way to slow the liquid down. Because it puts so much stress on the digestive system, often the prisoner vomits from his mouth while the liquid is pumped in through his nose. No matter, the force feeding continues.
It's hardly the same, but three days ago, my wife announced that ketosis had begun with me. Two evenings ago, she took away my car keys. Last night, I was short of breath when it came to blowing up balloons (so too, it seemed, was my mother, but then she is 86). Finally, the force feeders came for me. They know how to exploit a striker's weakness. They know when a striker is at his lowest ebb.
My son had kept two-hourly watches through the night, willing the big day of his party into begin, thinly disguising his agenda with requests for water, complaints that his bed was too soft, or the urgent need for his parents to join him in a search for Andy Worthington (his favourite bed rabbit, named for the journalist who gave him as a gift).
Finally, at 4:31am, with my consciousness thinly scraped from sleep deprivation as well as lack of food, the person who runs this place saw her opportunity.
"Today you drink a can of Ensure or you can't be a fire breathing dragon at your son's party. How can a man who can't inflate a balloon expect to frighten 32 five-year-olds wearing a dragon costume made out of carpet underlay in 32 degree heat?"
It's standard operating procedure, as Mos Def found out when he did the simulation. And it worked. The only choice I was given was vanilla or something called 'fruit of the forest'.
So I took one can in order to maintain the peace, to purchase a little rest, and perhaps get through the party. In the event, while most of the kids ran screaming at me with their swords and shields, my rather scary dragon outfit made a couple of the little ones cry. Despite this it was, as Wilf said, the best dragon party ever.
Oh! That the Guantánamo detainees could have such small concerns as mine. There, sad to say, the force-feeding monster continues, abusing the detainees and gobbling up America's hard-won reputation as the world's leading advocate of human rights.