Visitors' footfalls are like medicine; they heal the sick.
-Bantu Proverb

From "Healing Words for the Body, Mind and Spirit," by Caren Golman:

Shortly after Bernadin Hospice House in Columbia, South Carolina, opened its doors in April 2000, a young feral cat began showing up whenever patients sat outside. According to my friend Libby Green, marketing director of this facility for those with life-limiting illnesses, the patients love feeding and stroking the little black-and-white feline they named Whiskers. One day, the staff found her inside on the bed of a three-year-old girl who was dying of leukemia. Although patients can keep domestic pets at this hospice, no one knew Whiskers' health history. So a nurse put her out. But, said Libby, no matter how many times the staff removed her, Whiskers would sneak back in to nestle alongside that child. The day after the little girl died, she added, Whiskers began visiting other patients.

When a local vet heard about Whiskers, he voluntarily spayed and inoculated her so she could roam freely. Since then, Whiskers has arrived daily in time to accompany the nurses on their morning rounds. Once finished, she then returns to the room of whichever patient is closest to death. "We don't know how Whiskers knows," says Libby, "she just does. It's so uncanny, but if we have two patients dying at the same time, Whiskers splits her time between them."

Not too long ago, an elderly patient at Bernadin who was near death suddenly opened her eyes. "Shhh!" she said. "He's here." Then, according to Libby, "she began staring at something invisible to others in the room. At that moment, Whiskers came in and immediately froze and focused on the same invisible object as the patient. Whiskers didn't move until the woman closed her eyes.

The staff at Bernadin takes seriously their belief that Whiskers is a gift from God sent to comfort their patients.

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