A London Hospital Waives Its Draconian Anti-Cat Rules and Grants the Final Wish of a Cancer Victim by Allowing Her to See Her Beloved Patch One Last Time
|Patch and Gladys Wray|
"It was a beautiful moment. I put her hand on Patch to stroke him and everyone in the room heard her breathing change. She knew he was there."
-- David Wray
Regardless of either the circumstances or the foe, facing the final curtain is never easy. "I have wrestled with death. It is the most unexciting contest you can imagine," Joe Conrad observed in Heart of Darkness. "It takes place in an impalpable greyness, with noting underfoot, with nothing around, without spectators, without clamor, without glory, without the great desire of victory, without the great fear of defeat, in a sickly atmosphere of tepid skepticism, without much belief in your own right, and still less in that of your adversary."
Some of those irrepressible and gloomy thoughts no doubt coursed through the mind of Gladys Wray as she reclined in her bed at Queen's Hospital in Romford in the London borough of Havering earlier this year. The sixty-six-year-old resident of Haydon Road in the East London community of Dagenham was fighting a losing battle against lung cancer and fast approaching the end of her earthly journey.
In addition to the all-consuming struggle to stave off lapsing into oblivion, there are always the inevitable regrets and troubling reminders of all the things that have been left undone that bedevil the soul in its final hours. So, too, was it the case with Gladys.
In particular and while there was still time and energy remaining, she had one final wish and that was to see her beloved brown and white cat, Patch, one last time. She originally had hoped to get well enough in order to have returned home but when her condition suddenly deteriorated that became an impossibility.
Since cats are verboten at Queen's Hospital, that necessitated the dramatic, last-minute intervention of Mandarin A Ward clerk Leigh Kaniklides and palliative care occupational therapist Ursula Abbott who cleared away the red tape in order for Patch to visit Gladys.
"When I heard the family talking about her last wish to see her cat I couldn't stop thinking about it," Kaniklides told Your Cat Magazine of Grantham in Lincolnshire on April 12th. (See "Cat Brought to Hospital to Say Final Goodbye to Owner.") "I have cats and I know I'd want to see them."
By the time that the arrangements had been finalized the Grim Reaper already had his icy hands clinched tightly around Gladys' throat but it nonetheless is strongly believed that she still possessed enough presence of mind in order to have sensed Patch's presence. "It was a beautiful moment," her sixty-five-year-old husband, David, told Your Cat. "I put her hand on Patch to stroke him and everyone in the room heard her breathing change. She knew he was there."
With her last earthly wish now fulfilled she, sadly, died about an hour later. It has not been disclosed how Patch and her other animals are coping with the loss of their mistress but it is indisputable that she dearly cared about cats and that this world is a far poorer place with one fewer fan of the species in it.
"She loved animals -- we have another cat, Honey, and a dog, Roxy -- but cats were her favorite. She adored them," David continued. "It was a big surprise that we could take him to see her. Everyone on the ward was fantastic."
Press reports have not delved into why it is that cats are personae non gratae at Queen's Hospital, which is an integral part of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals and as such is underneath the thumb of the National Health Service (NHS) Trust. Nevertheless, by adhering to such an outlandishly outmoded policy the institution is bucking a growing worldwide trend in health care that long ago recognized the therapeutic value of cats.
Specifically, cats nowadays makes regular visits to hospitals and many of them have found permanent homes at nursing facilities. Most prominently among the latter group is an eleven-year-old gray and white tom named Oscar who along with five of his mates resides at Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island.
That in and of itself is not any mean achievement but Oscar is better known for his uncanny ability to predict death. (See Cat Defender posts of July 30, 2007 and May 27, 2010 entitled, respectively, "A Visit from Oscar Means That the Grim Reaper Cannot Be Far Behind for the Terminally Ill at a Rhode Island Nursing Home" and "When Lovers, Friends, and All Hope Have Vanished, Oscar Is There for Those Who Have No One and Nothing Left," plus David Dosa's 2009 tome, "Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat.")
Miss Kitty, a skinny calico who along with thirteen of her mates resides at the Phoebe Health Care Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania, is another member of that select fraternity. She is loved and appreciated so much in fact that staffers, residents, and volunteers held a party for her when she turned twenty-one on April 11, 2013.
"When we put the cat in their (inmates') lap (sic), that's when the magic happens," staffer Pam Kleckner told The Morning Call of Allentown on April 11, 2013. (See "In Allentown, a Senior Cat Gets the Royal Birthday Treatment.") "She responds well to all the attention, and they feel like they're caring for something."
|Miss Kitty on Her Twenty-First Birthday Back in 2013|
Nurse Gina Shupp wholeheartedly endorsed those sentiments. "The residents love her and the families do, too," she told The Morning Call. "They look for her, and when she's not on the counter they say, 'Where is she?'"
Even more impressive, the nursing home sometimes allows residents to bring along their cats with them and that is how Miss Kitty wound up there all those years ago. Specifically, she accompanied Kleckner's father, Fred Navatier, when he relocated from his home in Lehighton, forty-five kilometers north of Allentown. "He spoiled her and she's spoiled here," Kleckner summed up to The Morning Call.
There also is a growing body of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, that recognizes a discernible link between human health and the companionship of cats. For instance, fifty-four-year-old cancer victim Sylvia Manning of Billericay in Essex was left distraught when her cat, Bear, mysteriously disappeared in 2013 while she was in the hospital receiving treatment.
Although there never will be any way of knowing for sure, it is conceivable that if he had been allowed to have accompanied her he not only would not have disappeared but that her treatment and recovery could have been expedited. (See Cat Defender post of April 24, 2013 entitled "A Cancer Victim in Billericay Issues an Urgent Appeal for the Prompt Return of Her Beloved Cat, Bear.")
Other cats, such as Tiger, Sumo, and Fidge, have saved their owners' lives by alerting them to cancers. (See Cat Defender posts of April 11, 2009, March 27, 2010, and April 20, 2012 entitled, respectively, "Tiger Saves His Owner's Life by Alerting Him to a Cancerous Growth on His Left Lung," "Taken In Off the Street by a Compassionate Woman, Sumo Returns the Favor by Alerting Her to a Cancerous Growth on Her Bosom," and "Grateful for Being Provided with a Loving Home, Fidge in Turn Saves His Mistress's Life by Alerting Her to a Malignant Growth on Her Breast.")
Furthermore, the health benefits to be derived from keeping cats are by no means limited to their uncanny ability to detect cancers. For example, they also are known to be able to anticipate both diabetic seizures and emphysema attacks. (See Cat Defender posts of May 18, 2009, April 21, 2012, and April 18, 2009 entitled, respectively, "Elijah Teaches Himself to Detect Low Blood Sugar Levels in His Guardians and Others," "Adopted from a Shelter only Hours Previously, Pudding Saves His Rescuer's Life by Awakening Her from a Diabetic Seizure," and "Blackie Stays Up Nights Monitoring His Guardian's Breathing for Emphysema Attacks.")
In some cases, a cat's love even has been known to transcend both death and the grave. (See Cat Defender posts of July 27, 2013 and March 28, 2013 entitled, respectively, "Instead of Killing Her Off with a Jab of Sodium Pentobarbital and Then Burning Her Corpse, Ian Remains Steadfast at His Guardian's Side Long after Her Death" and "Even the Finality of the Grave Fails to Diminish Toldo's Abiding Love and Devotion to His Long Dead Guardian.")
Far from being a one-way street, individuals such as Rachel Honeycutt and Jennifer Foster love cats so much that they are willing to risk their lives in order to save even those that are perfect strangers. (See Cat Defender posts of August 10, 2009 and December 4, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Georgia Woman Is Struck and Nearly Killed by a Motorist while Attempting to Rescue Kittens Dumped in the Middle of a Busy Highway" and "Grieving Widow Risks Her Life in Order to Save Cosmo from the Jaws of a Hungry Coyote in Thousand Oaks.")
Others, such as Janice L. Rolfe of Grandview Heights, have been arrested for feeding hungry cats while still others, such as Hannelore Schmedes of Mahlum in Bockenem in Niedersachsen and Mamoru Demizu of Osaki, have gone to jail for stealing in order to feed both their own resident felines as well as those that are homeless. (See Cat Defender posts of February 26, 2007 and February 12, 2011 entitled, respectively, "Charged with Feeding a Feral Cat Named Fluffy, Retired Ohio Schoolteacher Beats the Rap" and "Disabled Former Casino Worker Is Sent to Jail for Shoplifting in Order to Feed Her Twelve Cats," plus the Hessische-Niedersächsische Allgemeine of Kassel, December 12, 2013, "Japaner wird aus Liebe zu Katzen kriminell.")
Tales of individuals who have been threatened with eviction from their apartments for feeding homeless cats are, likewise, almost endless. (See Cat Defender post of August 2, 2010 entitled "Old, Poor, and Sickly, Jeanne Ambler Is Facing Eviction for Feeding a Trio of Hungry Cats.")
John Beck was even fired from his job at ailurophobic Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, for demonstrating compassion for cats. (See Cat Defender post of June 14, 2006 entitled "Kindhearted Dairyman, Sacked for Feeding Feral Cats, Files $20 Million Lawsuit Against Cornell University" and the Cortland Standard, February 22, 2007, "Groton Man Appeals Dismissal of His Lawsuit Against Cornell University.")
In an even more recent case that really takes the cake, forty-nine-year-old Chris Muth of Carroll Gardens not only lost his job, apartment, and girlfriend but also was locked up in a mental hospital for attempting to rescue a cat in distress. (See Cat Defender post of August 4, 2008 entitled "Brooklyn Man Gets Locked Up in a Nuthouse and Then Loses Digs, Job, and Honey All for Attempting to Save His Friend's Cat, Rumi.")
In rare cases, individuals have been known to kill themselves after they have lost the companionship of their cats. That is exactly what Alan Jordan of Tredworth in Gloucester did after his unidentified cat disappeared. Tragically, his sacrifice turned out to have been in vain in that the cat returned home a fortnight later. (See Cat Defender post of January 2, 2012 entitled "With No Reason Left to Go on Living, Tredworth Resident Takes His Own Life after His Beloved Cat Disappears.")
Shortly thereafter, forty-four-year-old Michael McAleese of Poole in Dorset did likewise after his cat, Sophie, died. (See Cat Defender post of June 12, 2012 entitled "Sophie's Sudden Death Proves to Be Too Much of a Burden for a Bachelor in Poole to Bear So He Elects to Join Her in the Great Void.")
|The Happy Threesome: Spider and Lugosi with Barbarella Buchner|
There additionally is a growing trend whereby some individuals are eschewing settling down with their own kind and instead are marrying their cats. That is what thirty-nine-year-old Uwe Mitzscherlich of Bannewitz, twelve kilometers south of Dresden in Sachsen, and his fifteen-year-old black and white resident feline, Cecilia, did in early 2010. Famed Schauspielerin Christin-Maria Lohri officiated.
"Es klingt verrück, aber will meine Cecilia heiraten," he declared on that momentous occasion. (See Cat Defender post of May 20, 2010 entitled "A Simple Ceremony in a Garden Outside of Dresden Joins Forever an Unlikely, Albeit Devoted, Pair of Lovers.")
Long before that on January 9, 2005, transplanted Londoner Barbarella Buchner married her two cats, Spider and Lugosi, through the web site, www.maryyourpets.com. They now reside on the Canary Island of Lanzarote.
"My two cats are my soul mates. They're the loves of my life," she declared to The Mirror of London on January 6, 2015. (See "Barbarella Buchner: Woman Celebrates Ten-Year (sic) Anniversary after Marrying Her Two Pet Cats.") "I have no regrets, and I don't care what people say."
Before marrying Spider and Lugosi, the forty-nine-year-old web designer had several long-term relationship with members of the opposite sex but she never wanted to walk down the aisle with any of them. Finally, she gave up on men altogether.
"I never really wanted to get married to any of my human partners and I didn't know if I had it in me to be a wife," she explained to The Mirror. "If a man ever approaches me, I just tell them (sic) straight off, 'Sorry, I'm married to my cats'."
Not only has her relationship with her cats endured longer than any of her liaisons with men, but she also finds it more fulfilling. "I have loved and lived with a couple of partners before but realized that my love for my fur babies is so much deeper than anything I have felt for a human," she freely confessed to The Mirror.
As far as Spider and Lugosi are concerned, they are indeed fortunate to have Buchner to look after them and that is especially the case considering how abysmally homeless cats are treated on the Spanish-ruled island in the north Atlantic. For example, back in March officials from Yaiza stole at least nine feeding stations, and presumably shelters as well, from the grounds of the Playa Blanca Hotel in allegedly an attempt to spruce up the area in preparation for a visit by David Cameron and his family.
That cruel behavior left at least a dozen or two of the one-hundred-thirty cats cared for by Freddy's Cathouse without food and water. (See The Mirror of London, March 28, 2016, "Stray Cats Evicted from David Cameron's Five-Star Lanzarote Hotel Before Prime Minister's Visit.")
It therefore does not take much imagination to conclude that there is a whole other world out there and that as a consequence human happiness and fulfillment, as Barbarella, Uwe, and others have demonstrated, are not necessarily dependent upon the companionship of one's own kind. Such arrangements are not for everyone but they do provide an alternative to both loneliness and bad relationships.
In conclusion, considering the central role that cats now occupy in the lives of so many individuals it is time that institutions such as Queen's Hospital welcomed their presence and treated them in much the same fashion as they do family members and close friends of their patients. Such a change can only serve to boost morale and to speed recovery times.
Moreover, in the case of the terminally ill, such as Gladys, to deny them the opportunity to see their cats one last time can only be labeled as insensitive and cruel. Kaniklides and Abbott have pointed the way forward for Queen's Hospital and the NHS and now it is time for the high-muck-a-mucks to take the next step and put out the welcome mat to all cats.
As for Patch, Honey, Roxy, and David, these surely must be difficult days. They nevertheless have each other and their fond recollections of Gladys and those two positives, hopefully, will be sufficient in order to sustain them until the pain associated with their terrible loss slowly begins to recede into the past.
In that light, it is just too bad that neither Jordan nor McAleese had other cats to love and care for, otherwise they likely would have been able to have found ample reason to have persevered. They also could have adopted other cats and with there being so many of them in dire need of loving owners, that makes their precipitate behavior doubly tragic.
The truly beautiful thing about cats is that they are not particular and therefore will love almost anyone so long as they are not mistreated. Finding another woman in order to replace a departed spouse is not nearly quite as easy and for that reason David may be forced, at least for a while, into relying upon the companionship of Patch, Honey, and Roxy for his continued happiness.
Photos: the Yellow Advertiser of Essex (Patch and Gladys), April Bartholomew of The Morning Call (Miss Kitty), and The Mirror and News Dog Media (Spider, Lugosi, and Buchner).