Coincidence or a power beyond our understanding? In Thursday’s issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. David Dosa wrote about Oscar (pictured above), a cat who has the uncanny ability to predict our dying days. Oscar is a cat whose not known for his friendly behavior, but he makes the rounds of patients just like the doctors. His job, it seems, is to comfort those who are about to pass away.
The hospital staff has observed 25 cases where Oscar would curl up next to patients who “died within hours”. The 2-year-old cat grew up in the dementia unit at Steere House, which treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses. One doctor says that he is better at predicting who will die than the staff that works there. Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University was convinced after Oscar’s 13th(!) correct call.
This story gave me many conflicting feelings — disbelief, sadness, fear, appreciation and wonder — in that order. If you were on your deathbed, would your welcome Oscar?
Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don’t know he’s there, so patients aren’t aware he’s a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.
The hospital staff seems grateful for his help. Oscar was given a wall plaque for his “compassionate hospice care.”
Veterinarians are not sure of there is a scientific basis for his abilities or if his skills are more earthly. “His behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person.”
We’ve also provided excerpts from the copy of the full New England Journal article (which requires a paid subscription). Read highlights of Dr. Dosa’s thoughtful and poignant descriptions below after the survey. (Tissue box warning.)
Excerpts from the full New England Journal of Medicine article on Oscar:
Oscar the Cat awakens from his nap, opening a single eye to survey his kingdom. From atop the desk in the doctor’s charting area, the cat peers down the two wings of the nursing home’s advanced dementia unit. All quiet on the western and eastern fronts.. Slowly, he rises and extravagantly stretches his 2-year old frame, first backward and then forward. He sits up and considers his next move.
In the distance, a resident approaches. It is Mr. P., who has been living on the dementia unit’s third floor for 3 years now. She has long forgotten her family, even though they visit her almost daily. Moderately disheveled after eating her lunch, half of which she now wears on her shirt, Mrs. P. is taking one of many aimless strolls to nowhere. She glides toward Oscar, pushing her walker and muttering to herself with complete disregard for her surroundings. Perturbed, Oscar watches her carefully and, as she walks by, lets out a gentle hiss, a rattlesnake-like warning that say, ” leave me alone.” She passes him without a glance and continues down the hallway. Oscar is relieved. It is not yet Mrs. P’s time and he wants nothing to do with her.
Making his way back up the hallway, 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 besides 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… A young grandson ask 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.
(Source: AP via AOL)
Thanks to many readers for their tips.