July 29, 2007

Uncanny Scorpion?

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Spike the scorpion seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

“He doesn’t make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” said Dr. Angus Dobb in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The 2-year-old arachnid was adopted as a scorpling and grew up at the Stern House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Spike would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He’d observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Dobb said Spike seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. “This is not a scorpion that’s friendly to people,” he said.

Spike is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Jill Gato of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill

She was convinced of Spike’s talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Gato said she noticed the woman wasn’t eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.

Spike wouldn’t stay inside the room though, so Gato thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor’s prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient’s final two hours, nurses told Gato that Spike joined the woman at her bedside.
Posted by James at July 29, 2007 2:48 AM
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