Wednesday, November 3, 2010
How a special cat helps people at the end of their lives
Title: Making rounds with Oscar
By: David Dosa
This is a remarkable book about a very ordinary, yet extraordinary cat. The story is set in the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, an Alzheimer’s nursing home facility in Providence, Rhode Island. The cast of characters include the nursing home staff, residents, and six cats. In this tale of people with late stage dementia and their families, enters Oscar, a black and white mixed breed kitten, who somehow knows when someone is at the end of their life. This animal is also able to comfort them far better than most of the staff at the nursing home. Yet, when residents are healthy, Oscar runs and plays with the other felines in the unit or lies in the sun and seems only somewhat interested in being scratched or petted by people.
The author, David Dosa, a respected, gerontologist tells how he doubted that a cat could signal the end of death for his patients. He knew that doctors, nurses, aids and Hospice staff could rarely predict, with much accuracy, whether a given person was going to die in a week, a few days or few hours. However, this ordinary feline would be the “bell weather” for the health status of someone with dementia in the facility.
Dr. Dosa, though skeptical of Oscar’s special aptitude, decides to research this unusual ability by interviewing several caregivers and relatives about their experiences with Oscar. While this may seem macabre, Dr. Dosa finds that both the staff and relatives said that having Oscar around to “tell” them when a someone is dying was helpful. For example, there was a time that Dr. Dosa thought a patient was dying. This man had a severe infection and other medical complications. The staff placed Oscar on the man’s bed to see how the cat would react. Oscar immediately jumped down and (and if cats can communicate disdain) turned to everyone present and looked at them as if they were slightly deranged.
However, just a few weeks later an elderly woman, who seemed reasonably healthy for someone in late stage Alzheimer’s, receives a visit from this same cat. Oscar stays almost continuously, by her side, for the next twenty-four hours until she dies. The daughters of the woman, having heard about Oscar’s reputation decided to stay with their mom that day even though the Hospice nurse suggests they take a break and go home. The nurse said her mother would have several more days to live, but in reality did not.
David relates many other stories of Oscar’s interactions with the dying and their families and friends in this short volume. I highly recommend this book to animal lovers and especially to anyone who is dealing with those who are terminally ill. As Dr. Dosa writes, “if I were to make a choice at the end of my life between being in an Intensive Care Unit or dying with a cat by my side, I would chose the cat.”
View similarly tagged posts: non-fiction