Friday, July 27, 2007

on fat and an unlikely angel

yesterday two articles from the recent issue of the new england journal of medicine received their 15 minutes of fame. one article pertained to research which states that being fat is contagious - no, there isn't a 'fat germ,' rather the research published describes the person-to-person spread of obesity. the study provides elaborate and elegant diagrams, 'maps', and quantifications in examining how social networks (friends, family, and co-workers) influence and spread obesity. I hardly find the research startling; but cool, if giving this research a lot of attention can reverse the epidemic of obesity great! whatever helps! I'm delighted to see that through this research an important 'arm' of the medical establishment (the esteemed new england journal of medicine) has reinforced the importance of social networks and, to an extent, the notion that health is socially constructed. ideas and concepts that sociologists and anthropologists have been advancing for decades I might add!

the other article in the nejm which generated media attention grabbed my interest and stole my heart. this article was written by geriatrician david dosa; through his work at a providence rhode island nursing home dr. dosa met and worked with oscar, one amazing cat! dr. dosa's article is wonderfully touching. I present an excerpt for your enjoyment:

Oscar the Cat awakens from his nap, opening a single eye to survey his kingdom. From atop the desk in the doctor's charting area, the cat peers down the two wings of the nursing home's advanced dementia unit…. he enjoys another stretch and sets out on his rounds. Oscar decides to head down the west wing first, along the way sidestepping Mr. S., who is slumped over on a couch in the hallway. With lips slightly pursed, he snores peacefully — perhaps blissfully unaware of where he is now living. Oscar continues down the hallway until he reaches its end and Room 310. The door is closed, so Oscar sits and waits. He has important business here.

Twenty-five minutes later, the door finally opens, and out walks a nurse's aide carrying dirty linens. "Hello, Oscar," she says. "Are you going inside?" Oscar lets her pass, then makes his way into the room, where there are two people. Lying in a corner bed and facing the wall, Mrs. T. is asleep in a fetal position. Her body is thin and wasted from the breast cancer that has been eating away at her organs. She is mildly jaundiced and has not spoken in several days. Sitting next to her is her daughter, who glances up from her novel to warmly greet the visitor.

"Hello, Oscar. How are you today?"

Oscar takes no notice of the woman and leaps up onto the bed. He surveys Mrs. T. She is clearly in the terminal phase of illness, and her breathing is labored. Oscar's examination is interrupted by a nurse...Oscar returns to his work. He sniffs the air, gives Mrs. T. one final look, then jumps off the bed and quickly leaves the room. Not today.

Making his way back up the hallway, Oscar arrives at Room 313. The door is open, and he proceeds inside. Mrs. K. is resting peacefully in her bed, her breathing steady but shallow. She is surrounded by photographs of her grandchildren and one from her wedding day. Despite these keepsakes, she is alone. Oscar jumps onto her bed and again sniffs the air. He pauses to consider the situation, and then turns around twice before curling up beside Mrs. K.

One hour passes. Oscar waits. A nurse walks into the room to check on her patient. She pauses to note Oscar's presence. Concerned, she hurriedly leaves the room and returns to her desk. She grabs Mrs. K.'s chart off the medical-records rack and begins to make phone calls.

Within a half hour the family starts to arrive. Chairs are brought into the room, where the relatives begin their vigil. The priest is called to deliver last rites. And still, Oscar has not budged, instead purring and gently nuzzling Mrs. K. A young grandson asks his mother, "What is the cat doing here?" The mother, fighting back tears, tells him, "He is here to help Grandma get to heaven." Thirty minutes later, Mrs. K. takes her last earthly breath. With this, Oscar sits up, looks around, then departs the room so quietly that the grieving family barely notices.

On his way back to the charting area, Oscar passes a plaque mounted on the wall. On it is engraved a commendation from a local hospice agency: "For his compassionate hospice care, this plaque is awarded to Oscar the Cat." Oscar takes a quick drink of water and returns to his desk to curl up for a long rest. His day's work is done. There will be no more deaths today, not in Room 310 or in any other room for that matter. After all, no one dies on the third floor unless Oscar pays a visit and stays awhile.


L.M.Noonan said...

I still have goosebumps after having read that post. Thankyou and thankyou Oscar for your work. I think we can all accept this story as real because at some level anybody who has had any experience with creatures other than human beings know the intuitives of animals. Sadly many urban people will never know. What is more amazing and somewaht enlightened is the notion of what many would call a disease bearing animal in a hospital/hopice/medical facility being not only allowed but welcomed. Even in the article the relatives of the dying person 'ask what is a cat doing here?'

e. said...

i saw oscar on the news last night. there were lots of shots of him chewing on plants, apparently he doesn't want anything to do with people unless it is "their time". assuming you have it, can you print the article out for me?

Anonymous said...

Okay..totally made me cry with that one. Wow...great story, thank you for sharing. Thank you also for visiting my blog and your kind comment. I appreciate the encouragement.

Dumdad said...

Oscar the cat has become globally famous. The Daily Telegraph in London even had Oscar on its front page!

Unknown said...

Yeah I read about Oscar in the Guardian yesterday. It seems that he is a little furry guardian to help people through to the other side.

Dan said...

Hi Kim! Thanks for visiting my blog and for leaving such a wonderful comment! You rock!

I saw this cat on the news yesterday as well. My only thought was this ... if I were in a bed at that nursing home, and this cat decided to jump in my bed and began making himself comfortable (the way our little Lulu starts making a nest), I'd muster all my remaining energy and lift myself from my pillow and shout "GET THE HELL OFF THIS BED YOU ROTTEN CAT!!!!"

LOL! :)


mouse (aka kimy) said...

yes, it is amazing what a worldwide sensation oscar has become! there's something about this cat's gifts which strikes a chord.

lm - I've long advocated animals in nursing homes. in fact there's even a movement as such. visiting therapy animals have become a mainstay for many facilities.

e - hearing oscar was on the news chewing plants almost makes me regret never watching it...nah!

laney - welcome. looking forward to more visits.

I don't know dan, knowing what life is like in most nursing homes (quality what's that?), especially on a dementia unit, if it was me, I'd be anxious to have oscar jump on my bed to see and help me cross over!

lettuce said...

wow - i'm glad i scrolled down a bit, i read about this at the weekend and was going to say something about it in my next post (if i have time) - now i can link to you!

'tis amazing.
but we probably shouldn't be amazed should we? says more about us than about cats...