by David Dosa, M.D.
You may have heard about Oscar, the cat in a nursing home who knows when people are going to die and stays with them until they do. I was intrigued by the national news coverage of Oscar’s supposedly inexplicable gift for knowing when a patient would die.
Dosa, a physician at the nursing home, was not a cat lover and was highly skeptical about Oscar’s ability, even though the cat had a reputation so widespread that the families of patients would, in the final hours, be waiting for Oscar’s appearance. Dosa investigated, speaking with several people whose relatives had died in the nursing home. They were unanimous in their conviction about Oscar’s sensing abilities.
As Dosa gradually shifted his view to the point where he was certain that Oscar’s presence in the room of a patient reliably diagnosed imminent death, the question of the cat’s accuracy yields to a much bigger miracle: the unstinting attentiveness and compassion of a cat who is fully committed to help the dying make their transitions.
In one instance, two people were dying at the same time. Oscar first went to the patient who was having difficulty and great discomfort. The moment he died, the cat raced down the hall to be with a patient who was dying more peacefully.
The book also highlights the many challenging aspects of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia for the patient and family members. I note that many reviewers found the tragic details frightening, but Dr. Dosa’s abilities to write about his patients with a masterful mixture of objectivity and compassion was for me reassuring. A number of family members emphasized that Oscar was there for them as well as for those who were dying.
When I finished the book, I could only bless Oscar for his loving heart and Dr. Dosa for being honest enough to work through his skepticism to study the cat’s gift and share it with the world.