What a cat can see

The Egyptians revered cats; some have thought them agents of witches and Satan. So what of Oscar the Cat, a feline who seems to be aware when nursing home residents are about to fly away to God’s celestial shores? Creepy, or angelic? Dr. David Dosa, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, leans toward the latter in an essay describing Oscar as he makes his daily rounds. You might think it troubling that his appearance at your bedside is a harbinger of doom, but this is the advanced dementia unit of a Rhode Island nursing home, where many lonely souls drift and drift before they can fly home.

Doctors and nurses have come to trust Oscar’s prescience, and often, when he takes up the vigil, they know to alert families to join him. And when there is no family, or no one comes, Oscar stays faithfully at their sides.

This story was picked up by many major news outlets today, giving many a moment to pause and contemplate this “news of the weird” item. But Dr. Dosa’s eloquent tribute is not to be missed:

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 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.

Read the whole thing here.

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