Making Rounds With Oscar: The extraordinary gift of an ordinary cat
by David Dosa M.D.
Dr. Dosa works as doctor specializing in geriatrics. He finds himself working in a wonderfully caring and home-like nursing home on the advanced dementia ward. The nurses and other staff begin to talk about one of the many cats living in the home, Oscar. He is a surly one and isn't overly friendly. In fact he is rarely seen.. unless a patient is actively dying. Dr. Dosa discovers this is not a new activity for the cat. He has watched over many dying patients long before it was noticed.
Dr. Dosa interviews families of former patients and learns that Oscar was not only a comfort to the person as they passed but also one to the family. In some of the cases Oscar was the only one present during the passing, at which time he would curl up next to the person's body and await the undertaker.
Through Dr. Dosa's interviews the reader learns of the struggles every family has to endure when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia. Each family finds its way to the realization and subsequent guilt of needing a nursing home. They grieve their mothers, fathers and spouses long before they have passed due to the dementia taking away much of who they are. And through it all Ocsar watches and waits to do his duty.
Dr. Dosa starts off trying to understand why and how Oscar is able to detect death. What he learns instead is the importance of what Oscar does. The way he helps and comforts and the importance animals play in caring for people with terminal illnesses.
This was a great read, although the conversations did not seem natural (keeping in mind it was written by a Dr. not a writer), the story was beautiful. My Nana passed years ago after deteriorating through that horrible disease we call Alzheimer's. I had long since moved away and struggled each time I visited home. I was honest when I said I didn't want to see her. I wanted to remember her the way I knew her. Healthy and quick witted. My Nana had a huge part in my raising. If I wasn't with one of my parent's then I was surely with her. My brother was "hers" in many ways. Or at least that was her claim from the day he was born. She loved him with a fury I have never witnessed before or again. In her last days/months she carried a photo of him and I in her bra. The last day I saw her alive I sat with her awkwardly and my mom pushed for me to talk to her. I couldn't.. I didn't know her, she didn't know me, I had nothing to say and tears would surely have burst out if I had been able to eek out a single word. Instead she took my hand and held it tight. I could feel the involuntary shaking in her hand begin to stop. She looked at me and said "I don't think I know you" she held tighter to my hand and leaned in and finally said "but I love you." Those were her last words to me, and I am so blessed to have that memory. I was not there for her passing but am told that before she passed she asked for my brother, who was there with her. Knowing how much my family struggled to take care of her and my own short experiences with the disease, I was touched by the honesty displayed by the families in the book. A recurring theme was having to grieve the person they knew while learning to love the person they became. Also, in thinking of Oscar I am reminded of how amazing animals are. They aren't cursed with logic and emotions. They just do, they just react..and sometimes when no one else can, they just love.