This cat-loving doctor lost everything when a massage chair burned his house down. So he opened a queer-inclusive medical clinic
A doctor who raised Guinness World Record-breaking cats lost everything in a house fire started by a massage chair, including his pets, but it led him to open a queer-inclusive clinic in Michigan full of therapy cats.
Dr William Powers owned Arcturus Aldebaran, the world’s tallest cat, and Cygnus Regulus, who had the longest tail belonging any feline on earth.
His cats had just been named Guinness World Record holders when, on November 12 2017, everything changed.
Dr Powers woke up to find that his massage chair had burst into flames, with the fire spreading too quickly for him to stop. He desperately searched the house for his cats, collapsing twice from smoke inhalation in the process, but they were nowhere to be found.
Dr Powers and his wife Dr Lauren Powers lost everything that day, including their pets. He suffered from debilitating mental health problems after the fire, and eventually lost his job at a clinic.
He told Medscape: “I just could not accept the level of grief I had. It broke me.”
During his 15-month recovery, he and his wife travelled the country, played video games, and got four new cats. Soon, former patients started to get in touch, urging him to return to work.
He said: “They convinced me, like, we need you. You have a purpose.”
When he was cleared for work by his psychiatrist, he decided he would figure out a way to open his “dream clinic”, focusing on his special interest in trans healthcare. He also realised it needed to include his two favourite things; video games and cats.
The clinic would have a video game theme with consoles in the waiting rooms, and his hypoallergenic cats would roam the office as therapy animals.
Despite warnings from people around him that the clinic would be too unconventional, six months after opening, in February 2019, Powers Family Medicine was completely full with more than 1,000 patients, 95 per cent of whom are LGBT+, HIV-positive, polyamorous or practicing a kink or sexual fetish.
While not all of them need specialist care or treatments, in Trump’s America, which is trying to strip the rights of LGBT+ people, the clinic is a queer-inclusive safe place.
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LGBT+ people are not protected from discrimination in Michigan or at a federal level, and Dr Powers is aware that his patients are often nervous after bad experiences with healthcare. He said the cats are a huge help.
He said: “I’ll walk into a room and there’s perceptible anxiety. So I’ll grab one of the cats. It completely alters their perception.”
As for the video games, he said: “For me, they are immersive worlds I can kind of lose myself in for a while, and I can forget about my grief.
“They were literally what stopped me from going completely insane after the fire… [The patients] are living with HIV. They may be living with family members who abuse them. Many have hated the body they have lived in since they were little.”
Due to the difficult experiences of its patients, the clinic is “fiercely protective” of patient privacy and Dr Powers even dictates a patient’s notes back to them to make sure every detail is correct. When coming in for an appointment, patients are given a figurine of a video game character and the character’s name is called out when the doctor is ready to see them.
Dr Powers still struggles with PTSD after the fire, and takes a mental health day once a month. He also offers this to his staff as a paid day off.
He added: “I have a lot more empathy for my trans patients who may have lost their family, their job, their stuff, their car, their stability, and their feeling of safety and trust in society. I know what that’s like now.”