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.”

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email


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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Poems

Popular Tags
addiction alcohol addiction allergies anatomy lab bedside manner bigotry breast cancer cancer caregiver stories caregiving chemotherapy child abuse childbirth children chronic illness complementary therapies connecting with patients coping with death coping with illness coping with patient death cross-cultural health care cultural competence death and dying death of a parent dementia depression diabetes disability doctor-patient communication doctor-patient relationship doctor as patient doctor poems doctor stories drug addiction end of life end of life decision making faith family medicine forgiveness frustration with healthcare system genetic disorders geriatrics getting the news healing health care policy health care politics health insurance HIV humor ill parent immigration inequality international health labor and delivery leukemia medical errors medical student stories medical training medicine memorable patients mental health mental health professional stories mental illness military medicine miracles miscarriage mistakes neuroscience nurse poems nurse stories ob/gyn palliative care parent stories Parkinson's disease patient-centered care patient poems patient stories pediatrics personal remembrance physician assistant stories poem poems/poetry pregnancy PTSD race realizing human mortality resident stories role modeling self care social determinants of health social issues social worker stories spirituality stress and burnout suicide surgery thanksgiving the bad doctor visuals war veteran
Scroll to Top