Sunday, July 29, 2007
Oscar the Cat
You've doubtless heard by now of Oscar the death-sniffing cat. He made my local morning newspaper; I'm sure he was in yours as well. Oscar lives at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. He senses when the residents there are on their way out. Here's an excerpt from a day in his life as published in the latest New England Journal of Medicine(1):
Oscar arrives at Room 313. The door is open, and he proceeds inside. Mrs. K. is resting peacefully in her bed, her breathing steady but shallow. She is surrounded by photographs of her grandchildren and one from her wedding day. Despite these keepsakes, she is alone. Oscar jumps onto her bed and again sniffs the air. He pauses to consider the situation, and then turns around twice before curling up beside Mrs. K.
One hour passes. Oscar waits. A nurse walks into the room to check on her patient. She pauses to note Oscar's presence. Concerned, she hurriedly leaves the room and returns to her desk. She grabs Mrs. K.'s chart off the medical-records rack and begins to make phone calls.
Within a half hour the family starts to arrive. Chairs are brought into the room, where the relatives begin their vigil. The priest is called to deliver last rites. And still, Oscar has not budged, instead purring and gently nuzzling Mrs. K. A young grandson asks his mother, "What is the cat doing here?" The mother, fighting back tears, tells him, "He is here to help Grandma get to heaven." Thirty minutes later, Mrs. K. takes her last earthly breath. With this, Oscar sits up, looks around, then departs the room so quietly that the grieving family barely notices.
I was at my mom's today. She is suffering from a series of small strokes, and today was a particularly bad brain day. I think both she and I would have welcomed Oscar's ministrations this afternoon, but cat attendant or no, today was not the day.
1. Dosa, DM. NEJMVolume 357:328-329 July 26, 2007 Number 4.