It was as if I had stumbled on a scene from the Summer of Love. A small group of interested onlookers, residents, and staff had surrounded the front desk of the unit, blocking my view of the spectacle. Like a small child trying to get a better look at a passing parade, I picked my way through the morass of walkers and residents. All eyes were on Oscar and Maya who appeared to be in the throes of ecstasy. Both cats were charging around the desk at breakneck speed, stopping occasionally to roll around, flailing their limbs in the air. It was like watching a drug-fueled pas de deux, with cats instead of dancers.
I pushed my way to the front where I found Mary.
“Who put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine?” I said.
“Catnip,” she said.
Watching their whirling-dervish routine, my inner veterinarian took over. “Are they sick?” I asked.
Mary laughed, and then launched into an explanation, almost shouting to be heard over the yowling of the cats and the laughter of the staff and patients.
“Cats love it. It makes them crazy. There’s some kind of chemical in the herb that gives them an almost sexual high.”
I looked at Oscar, who I had been thinking of as this wise, Sphinx-like creature with all the answers. He was chasing his tail. “What, do they smoke it?”
“Don’t you know anything about cats?” asked an aide who overheard me. I was joking but honestly, I had little idea what catnip was.
“I’ve never owned a cat,” I said to the aide.
She laughed. “Nobody owns a cat, Dr. Dosa. They own you!”
Mary came to my rescue.
“The cats don’t smoke it, David,” she said. “They just roll in it. You can see the results.”
“But they do act like little drug fiends!” said the aide.
As the hilarity died down, the novelty of seeing our two resident cats acting like clowns wore off even before the catnip did. People began to drift off and I stole into Mary’s office to check my messages. She followed me in.
“How was your meeting with Donna?” she asked.
“Interesting,” I said. “She told me that her mother really hated cats, all animals really, until she met Oscar.”
“Isn’t that something?” said Mary. “That you could even forget what you once hated.”
“An old Irish patient of mine asked me if I knew the definition of Irish Alzheimer’s,” I said.
Mary cocked an eyebrow, waiting for the joke. “And?”
“He said, ‘You forget everything but the grudges.’ ”
Mary laughed. “Well, I don’t think the Irish have a lock on resentment.” She looked out the window at the thinning crowd. Oscar and Maya were lolling about on the floor now, a couple of old hopheads coming down off their high.
“But Donna also told me how glad she was that Oscar was there at the end,” I continued. “It was as if he gave her permission to leave. She said later she figured her mother wasn’t going to die with her daughter there, so Oscar did a service for both of them in a sense.”
“Like a bridge between the mother and daughter,” Mary said.
“Yeah, like a bridge.” I looked through the glass with her at this ordinary house cat, passed out on the carpet. Maybe I was the one who’d been smoking the catnip.
“So, are you going to talk to some more family members?” Mary asked. “Remember those two sisters who lost both their parents here? Oscar was with their mom when she died.”
“Rita and Annette,” I said. “I thought about them. Though I’m not really sure what I’m trying to discover.” I looked at her again.
“You could always go see Jack McCullough ... or what about Mrs. Ferretti? Didn’t you have a good relationship with her?”
I could sense Mary prodding me on with my journey of discovery. “Did you ever see Citizen Kane?” I asked.
“Oh, God, ages ago.”
“Maybe I’m like that reporter, you know, the one who goes out to discover the meaning of ‘Rosebud.’ ”
“That’s right!” said Mary. “And in the end it turns out to be the name of his sled.”
“Yeah, that’s what the audience finds out when they show them burning it at the end,” I said. “But the reporter never learns anything.”
“You never know, though, until you try.”
I smiled and changed the subject. “So, who do I need to see today?”
Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Extraordinary Cat. http://www.daviddosa.com/ Copyright © 2010 David Dosa. Used by permission of Hyperion. All Rights Reserved. Read an interview with David Dosa.