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Friday, July 27, 2007

Angel of Death...Or Serial Killer?

For those of you who aren't familiar with this story and are therefore both confused and disturbed, let me explain. A cat in Rhode Island is making news with his alleged ability to predict the exact time that human beings will visit the litter box in the sky. Doctors feel confident enough about his track record that they are writing him up in the New England Journal of Medicine. But it seems to me that they are putting the rosiest spin on the facts. Here is what we know.

Oscar came to live at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center as a kitten two years ago. Since then, he has been spotted making rounds each day, sniffing and nuzzling patients of the third floor dementia unit. At some point, caregivers noticed that he had an apparent tendency to curl up on the bed of the soon-to-be deceased. The correlation has reached a point where hospital staff begin phoning family members as soon as he lays down. What does that conversation sound like, I wonder?

"Mr. Smith, this is Dr. Green calling from the Steere House. You'd better get over here. No, the doctor hasn't seen your father yet today. No, his vitals appear normal. Well, you see, it's Oscar. No, not the Grouch. The Cat. Yes, I said the cat. He's sleeping with your father as we speak. Yes, that is serious. We'll do everything we can until you arrive. Please hurry, and you're welcome."

I'd just like to say, first of all, that if Oscar really is a kitty clairvoyant, then he is certainly hedging his bets. It isn't like he goes to health clubs or figure skating competitions to be Nostradamus. He's predicting death in a dementia unit of a nursing home! I'd say his odds are better than average. But I don't think that's what's actually happening. No, I want to be the first to come right out and say what everyone else is only thinking. Oscar has been the last visitor of some 25 patients in the last two years. Some say that makes him and angel; I say it makes him a suspect. I wonder if anyone has tried removing him from the unit and seeing what happens to the mortality rate? There are many well documented cases of medical serial killers. Involuntary euthanasia, they call it, and Oscar fits the profile to a tee.

So before we go nominating this feline for sainthood, I think we ought to bring in the forensics team. I'll bet we find more than trace elements of deadly dander in the victim's lungs.


Andy said...

I agree that they should take Oscar to a different setting to see if he can still predict death, but I do think the MD that wrote the journal article may be on to something. In one of the AP articles, he's quoted as theorizing that perhaps we humans give off some type of pheromone just before we bite the big one. Homo sapiens has mostly evolved past its ability to detect pheromones (the pheromone-sensing organ still present in our nose is no longer wired to our brains), but other mammals have acute pheromone-detecting abilities over significant distances (more than just a few feet). I wager that Oscar is just following his nose.

Tony said...

Is it possible that cats can predict death by smelling pheromones? Sure, I guess so. Do I think it's very likely? Not really. Until this MD conducts anything close to a controlled scientific experiment, it's all just wild speculation. Although cat ladies everywhere should be careful. It may be that the cat's have been designed by nature to correctly anticipate an easy meal.

daniel said...

My sister-in-law works in a hospital with elderly patients. Off the record she says older, experienced nurses can mostly tell a few days before someone is about to pass away. There is no science to it, just a sensitivity they get from years of experience. So humans can too.

Elaine Vigneault said...

I think he just likes to nap where fidgety people aren't. So he chooses the beds of the dying to take a cat nap.

You do know that there's an urban legend that cats kill babies while they sleep, right? It's actually based on some truth, the fact that some cats sleep on babies' heads and accidentally suffocate them. That could be what's going on with Oscar.