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Predictor of Death

Where Was Oscar The Cat When I needed Him?


By —— Bio and Archives--August 12, 2007

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“Why don’t you go to lunch? I’ll wait here until he dies”, I suggested to the nurses. The patient was a 90 year old Baptist minister, and after days of futile treatment for cardiac problems I was sure the end was imminent.

At the time I was a young doctor at the Manoir Richelieu hotel in La Mal Baie, Quebec. But to my surprise, several days later, the minister left the hotel alive after I had decided to stop all medication! If only Oscar the cat had been present, he might have told me we could all go to lunch! 

The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, not noted for publishing trivia, recently surprised doctors by publishing a photo of Oscar. This male feline had become a star due to his uncanny ability to predict death.

Dr. David M. Dosa, a geriatrician at the Steere House Nursing Center in Providence, R.I., reported that Oscar’s life had been saved as a young kitten when staff members bailed him out of an animal shelter. Little did doctors know he was destined to become a celebrity. 

Medical staff started to notice that Oscar had a knack for knowing when a patient was about to die. Dosa says, “Oscar would snap to attention” when he sensed the final phase of a patient’s life. This cat really missed his calling. He should have been a funeral director.

His routine rarely varied. He would arrive at the patient’s bedside about four hours before death occurred and curl up alongside the patient. Often he would be purring and paying attention to the dying patient while family members gathered and the priest administered last rites. Then after death he would quietly leave the room. 

How good is Oscar’s track record? Dr. Dosa says Oscar hasn’t missed the diagnosis in 25 deaths, a great achievement for Oscar. But suppose you’re a patient and aware of his sixth sense for onset of death, his record could also scare you to death. Can you imagine the sheer terror that would strike if you’re scheduled for bypass surgery in a few hours and Oscar suddenly takes a fancy to your bed? Any one in his right mind would get dressed and go home.

Luckily, Steere House is a terminal facility for those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. So fortunately those patients who are chosen by this sweet-faced, grey-and-white cat have no idea that he’s present nor what’s about to happen to them.

In view of his remarkable accomplishments the largest hospice organization in the state has awarded him a certificate acknowledging his uncanny work.

The big question is how does Oscar who has not graduated from The Harvard Medical School Summa Cum Laude know so much about death? Dr. Dosa, says “Your guess is as good as mine”.

Some personnel at The Steere House facility believe Oscar is a great observer of human nature. They contend he has watched the increased human activity that occurs at the bedside prior to death, and is a bit of a copy cat. Or maybe he likes the warm blankets placed around the patient at that time.

I doubt that theory. Oscar, like any feline, lives in a world of scents rather than sight.  His vision is 10 times less than humans, but his sense of smell is 14 times stronger. Oscar, while cuddling up to a dying patient, has 200 million odour sensitive cells in his nose compared to a mere five million in humans.

Dr. Joan Teno, Professor of Medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University says, “I think certain chemicals are released when someone is dying and he is smelling this odour”.

Others theorize that Oscar may be aware of the fact that a dying person in bed becomes very quiet and that it’s the lack of movement that attracts Oscar.

I don’t blame Oscar for not divulging his secret. After all, what other cat has received prestigious awards at two years of age. I’d predict by age 10 he’s a candidate for the Nobel Prize.

But Oscar, where were you when I needed you? You could have saved a young doctor a lot of embarrassment.



Dr. Gifford Jones -- Bio and Archives | Comments

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker’s website is: Docgiff.com

My book, “90 + How I Got There” can be obtained by sending $19.95 to:
Giff Holdings, 525 Balliol St, Unit # 6,Toronto, Ontario, M4S 1E1

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