Schrödinger’s Patient

In a box she waits,
Neither dead nor alive,
Until observed.
In three months,
The box opens.
Tested, probed, scanned,
She learns the cancer has recurred,
In which case she is dead.
Or it has not returned,
In which case she is–not alive.
Boxed in once more,
Neither dead nor alive,
She again awaits the allotted period
Until the box is opened,
A quantum superposition which only death
Can collapse into a state of certainty.

Then the day comes,
The final opening of the box.
She learns the cancer has recurred,
In which case she is dead.
Or it has not returned,
In which case she is–alive.
After five years in the box,
She embraces the certainty of either.

Kim Gainer is a professor of English at Radford University in Radford, VA. She is also the associate dean of the university’s College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences.

About the Poem

“As a hobby, I’ve written Tolkien-inspired fan fiction for years, but I have turned to poetry as a way of grappling with my experiences and emotions during treatment for (and hopefully recovery from) endometrial cancer. The terseness of poetry helps me to crystallize my thoughts and feelings, which in turn makes me feel that I am still in control of my life even while on the receiving end of so many medical procedures.”


8 thoughts on “Schrödinger’s Patient”

  1. Dalhia chiche more

    Kim I have written for myself over the years as a sister a daughter and as a mother. It gave me shivers to read it as a patient who is writing in third person. Thank you for sharing ❤️

  2. This is a perfect metaphor and the final line, “She embraces the certainty of either,” was deep with meaning, and speaks to the courage one must have to accept whatever lies ahead. Thanks!

  3. I think you have captured the pattern of waiting and wondering so well, or captured what it must be like to live with uncertainty.

    Thank you

  4. I love this poem! I love the title, and how it helps us to see the uncertainty and certainty in pairs… it is often hard to go to the doctor’s again, due to the PTSD of each of the imaging studies and the ongoing uncertainty. Thanks for saying it so well.

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