A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat

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Geriatrician David Dosa’s New England Journal of Medicine essay: “Since he was adopted by staff members as a kitten, Oscar the Cat has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families. Oscar has also provided companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone. For his work, he is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves.”

The question for me is whether the cat’s ‘sixth sense’ merely perceives the impending death or whether, somehow, his curling up with the patient facilitates the process. At one extreme, his comforting presence may help the person let go. At the other extreme, I recall the mythology around cats’ being soul- or breath-stealers, leading mothers to keep them away from their infants’ cribs and cradles through the ages. The patients at Oscar’s nursing home, by and large, have dementia so advanced that they probably do not appreciate the meaning of his presence but I wonder what the outcome would be if they or their family members were alarmed by his arrival and shooed him away before he could settle down.

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Sports Spectacles

I have never been much of at all a fan of professional sports and this week is certainly a reminder of why not, with the basketball referee betting scandal and Michael Vicks’ showing his true stripes, as well as the ongoing collapse of the integrity of the bicycle racing world. At least the spotlight has temporarily been lifted from Barry Bonds’ ignominy.

Thinking further about these issues, I had a brilliant idea. Why not simply allow performance-enhancing drugs … for the referees? And, instead of enormous salaries and bonuses, why not allow team athletes to bet on their games, as long as they bet on their team winning?