I never had much of an interest in physics. Although I had a natural inclination to science and biology for personal reasons, the last science class I took was back in grade eleven. Thus, the first time I heard about Schrodinger’s Cat, it was on an episode of Stargate: SG1.
Bear with me because I do not have a mathematical mind and my understanding of this theory is tenuous at best. Erwin Schrodinger theorized that if you put a cat in a box with a radioactive substance that triggers a poisonous substance if the radioactive material decays, then the cat has equal probability of living or dying. And because both possibilities exist then the cat is simultaneously dead and alive until the box is opened and the results are observed.
It sounds a bit like an obscure party trick used to amuse guests. All fun and games – unless you’re the cat. When I first heard the theory, I dismissed it immediately. “The cat is either alive or dead,” I thought. “It can’t be both.”
But for some odd reason, it kept coming up. In other tv shows, in movies…, it was like the cat was following me. “The radioactive material is going to decay, ” I reasoned. “The cat has to be dead.” Except then I would counter myself, realising that there was a chance the radioactive material did not decay and the cat was still alive.
Time passed and the cat faded from my thoughts. I’ve never really been a cat person anyway and so the fate of one theoretical cat didn’t keep me up at night.
The principle behind it stuck with me though. If two possibilities exist and the final outcome is unknown, do both outcomes simultaneously exist? I didn’t think so, but I kept thinking about it.
Then my ganciclovir-resistant Cytomegalovirus (CMV) came along. I progressed from IV ganciclovir to oral valganciclovir to high-dose IV ganciclovir. After a week of the high-dose, my viral load went from being in the 4, 000s to 10, 800. I was told the ganciclovir may not be working and based on the next week’s viral load results I would either continue with the ganciclovir or be switched to a drug called foscarnet which requires monitoring in the hospital. All week long I was a wreck. I wondered constantly if I should act like I wasn’t going to stay in the hospital or if I should pack my bag.
I didn’t pack my bag and my viral load the next week was down to 5, 000. Unfortunately, 5,000 was not low enough, and because I was symptomatic my doctor renewed the two options with an addendum: if my viral load did not go below 3, 000, I would be admitted to the hospital to start the foscarnet.
Another week of indecision ensued. Would the ganciclovir ultimately triumph or would I have to endure a hospital stay?
This morning as I sat in the examination room waiting for the doctor’s pronouncement, I realised – I am Schrodinger’s damn cat. I was waiting for the doctor to open my box and proclaim my viral load high or low.
Instead, due to low white blood cell and neutrophil counts, it was decided I wasn’t tolerating the high-dose ganciclovir well enough to continue and should be admitted to the hospital immediately to start the foscarnet. The viral load results hadn’t even come back yet when the decision was made.
In terms of comparison to Schrodinger’s cat, it felt a bit like setting up the whole experiment only to shoot the cat through the box.
What Schrodinger’s cat and my viral load do have in common is the sense of uncertainty – the unknowable outcome. By the time the doctor got to me today I was yelling in my head, “Open the box already!”
I may remain uncertain when it comes to final outcomes of medical situations, but there is one thing of which I am certain. Theoretical or not, someone should have brought Schrodinger up on animal cruelty charges.