Friday, July 27, 2007

Oscar, conductor of souls


I've been meaning all day to write about Oscar (see also previous post), but people keep doing extraordinary things and getting in the news, and by now Oscar is so famous that some hardened souls are already sick of him.

For the seven people who don't know this yet, Oscar is the resident cat at a Rhode Island nursing home whose attention to dying patients has accurately predicted 25 deaths in the last 12 months. Oscar does his daily rounds, checks on everyone, and if he senses a patient is not long for this world will leap up onto the bed, curl up next to the patient and stay until he or she has died. The nursing home now gets on the phone quick smart to the family if staff see Oscar curled up on someone's bed, and it has ensured that a lot of people have made it in time to say goodbye.

One little boy who asked why the cat was there was told by his (very sensible) mother that Oscar was there to help Grandma get to heaven, which immediately made me think of a word I adore but can rarely find an excuse to use: psychopomp.

There's something very comforting about the idea of a bit of help and guidance at the most mysterious moment of one's life. And if it turns out I have to go somewhere else after this life, I can't think of any guide -- either upwards or downwards -- I'd rather see leading the way than the steady, sturdy, purposeful padding of a moggy, serenely waving a feathery tail.

14 comments:

lucy tartan said...

I would like to go off with a cat peaceably curled up on the bottom of the bed. That said, I find it slightly worrying that the nursing home people seem to be for real on this one. I bet he sometimes just lies on beds because they don't have enough cat hair on them.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Well, yeah, but 25 times in 12 months? That's once a fortnight. The important thing about this story to my mind is that he ignores everyone else -- staff, visitors and non-marked-for-death patients -- at least some of whom surely also don't have enough cat hair on them, though I agree that one can never be sure.

I like the theory that he can smell the changes in them coming, as though they were the weather. Don't cats know when there's going to be an earthquake?

Mindy said...

We were wondering here if any of the patients die of heartattacks when he jumps on their beds. A sort of 'no, not me I'm not read gaahhh! oh damm' type thing. I imagine that if any of them are still aware it must be a little disconcerting.

PC your idea of following the fluffy tail of a cat made me think that the cat would lead us all to the celestial catfood cupboard and then twine around our ankles until we fed it, then bugger off and leave us to our own devices.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Apparently Oscar does indeed bugger off once they've died. I have this vivid mental picture of him saying 'My work here is done.'

Mindy, your comment about feeding time reminded me of a particularly good Get Fuzzy cartoon where Satchel (nice, dumb dog) and Bucky (evil, cross-eyed Siamese cat) are looking up reproachfully at their owner, erm, slave Rob (whom Bucky calls Pinky) who in turn is peering despondently into a pantry cupboard. Satchel is saying 'You mean the magic cupboard is broken AGAIN??'

Anonymous said...

"Well, yeah, but 25 times in 12 months? "

What about the other 340 days of the year when nothing happens? Sound a bit like self-proclaimed psychics extolling their hits, while neglecting to mention all the misses.

(and believe me, you wouldn't want to go with one of my seven by you - do you really want the last thing you see on this earth to be a cat's bum in yor face?)

Dany le roux said...

Oscar is just a member of a subset of what I have been lead to believe are "nurse cats". There is one in our household and he sleeps on (yes on) the sickest or most unhappy person in the house and it does not have to do with the body temperature of the sick person.If there are no sick people he just wanders about all night or brings home a neighbour's 17 year old cat for a feed if he thinks it has not been fed properly.

Another Outspoken Female said...

What a magnificent beast. Of course he leaves them once they are gone because heat is the basis of life.

We currently have 3 cats with 'cat flu' and I now dread curling up with any of the miserable, snotty, sad feline souls, for fear that I'll Oscar them!

Ampersand Duck said...

Nice to know the ferryman is actually a ferry-puss! I'd like to die with something warm and purring next to me. We should be so lucky.

Mindy said...

One of ours has taken the magic food cupboard to a whole new level - the I will wake up the baby you've just gotten back to sleep if you don't feed me (again) right now, by miaowing loudly just as she drifts off to sleep and you try to sneak back to your own bed.

Anonymous said...

I can vouch for the nurse cat phenomenon, and wrote about it for Spinifex's cat anthology. There was no reason for a cat (whom I'd not met before) to sit on my lap in the middle of a German restaurant, except that I was very upset. Lucy Sussex

Pavlov's Cat said...

*Makes mental note to track down Spinifex's cat anthology*

Gianna said...

gee, you'd be locking that cat out of your room, wouldn't you?

mindy, i had to laugh as my cat knows that trick well. however, sometimes he tries another approach and sucks up by suppressing his usual loud miaouw into a softly strangled "mrrrrrhh" when the child is asleep.
i also love the trick where they get underfoot and let you trip over them and then pretend you stepped on their paw, in the hope of getting a sympathy feed. such actors!

Darlene said...

I think having a lovely cat (and he is a pretty boy) curled up next to you in your last moments would be nice. These are people who are going to go, and it's their time to go. Cats are extremely smart.

Mine cat's a tortie, so she's just so self-obsessed : ).

I'd be on my death bed and my puss (Jess) would be squeaking at me to get her some dinner.

Suse said...

Psychopomp is a truly magnificent word. Conjurs up images of Hermes on acid.

And you won't believe it but my word verif. is yveflu