Oscar the cat, raised at an advanced care unit for dementia patients at a Rhode Island nursing and rehab center, makes a specialty of visiting the dying. Ordinarily not an out-going, cuddly cat, Oscar will curl up next to a patient who has mere hours left of life, and purr, purr, purr. Link in the title to the story in the Boston Globe, but you can also read a more in-depth story (not full of techy words either) from the NEJM, New England Journal of Medicine.
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.from the NEJM article. The cat is more accurate by far than any of the doctors, nurses or other human staff at predicting when it's really time to call the family to come.
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.
On his way back to the charting area, Oscar passes a plaque mounted on the wall. On it is engraved a commendation from a local hospice agency: "For his compassionate hospice care, this plaque is awarded to Oscar the Cat." Oscar takes a quick drink of water and returns to his desk to curl up for a long rest. His day's work is done. There will be no more deaths today, not in Room 310 or in any other room for that matter. After all, no one dies on the third floor unless Oscar pays a visit and stays awhile.
And as with any feline, a hefty portion of Oscar's days are given to zzzzs. He likes to sleep on stacks of patient reports. Or on the desk at the nurses' station. Or in the linen closet.(from the Globe article)
When awake, however, and strutting about, Oscar the cat projects something very much like the quality that ancient Romans called gravitas -- a solemn dedication to duty.
"He seems to take very, very seriously what he does, for whatever reason he does it," said Dosa.
Oscar makes regular "inspection" rounds of the unit, sauntering in and out of patient rooms -- as if checking on the condition of the occupants. But he never joins them for a snooze.
"He only shows great interest in individuals when they are about to die," said Dosa.
Image is from the Globe article. You can see another photo of Oscar at the NEJM site.