Stories From the Clinic
by Emily C. Lierman. Stories From the Clinic was first published in 1926.
ONE of the ambulance drivers connected with the Harlem Hospital called on us. He was wearing very heavy glasses and his eyes, as he strained hard to see, looked to be about the size of pinheads. He had heard of Dr. Bates and his treatment, and was eager to obtain some relief from eyestrain. Oculists told him that nothing more could possibly be done for him. His sight was gradually failing, and he feared that he would soon lose his position. Dr. Bates examined his eyes, and told him that he had a very high degree of myopia, but that he could be cured if he would take the trouble.
Our room never was so crowded with patients as it was that day, and he had to wait some time before receiving any attention. However, while I was busy with a boy, who enjoyed palming because it improved his sight so quickly, the ambulance driver got busy too. Shifting and swinging helped little Jack, and he found that it was a. great relief to try the different methods which helped him—to relax. This interested the man very much, as the smile on his face indicated. I was eager to help him, too, and glad when the opportunity came. He stood directly behind my boy patient, and imitated as well as he could just what Jack was doing.
When he first entered the room, his vision was 10/200 without glasses. Before I had a chance to treat him, he had improved his sight to 10/70 all by himself. He listened while I continually repeated to the boy, not to stare. When I told the little fellow to look no longer than a second at one letter, because if he did his sight would blur, the man followed the directions. When I began to treat the latter he told me that he never knew he stared. He found out that when he did not close his eyes often, as the normal eye does, his vision blurred, and he could not see any letters at all on the test card at ten feet. That day I improved his sight to 10/40.
We have had a number of patients who were cured of myopia in one or two visits. Since some were not bad cases, it did not take long to cure them.
A woman of middle age, who had worn glasses two years, told me something, which I think might interest our readers. She had very little to do at the time; to amuse herself, she would stare at an object until it became distorted. She stared so persistently that the object became two instead of one. Later she was able to see the object triple, and to anyone who would listen to her she boasted about her ability to do this. Then, one morning, after she wakened from a sound sleep, she could not see the hands of her clock. The figures were blurred. Everything in the room seemed to be covered with a veil. She tried her usual experiment and stared just as hard as she could, thinking that it would help her to see things clearly. Instead, her vision became worse, and she called on an oculist. He told her that she would probably have to wear-glasses for the rest of her life. He fitted her with glasses and advised her never to be without them. Six months later she had to have stronger lenses. When I first saw this patient, I thought that her eyelids were stationary. I looked at her for fully three minutes, without seeing her blink once. Then she told me what I have already written. I said I believed that she had brought on all this trouble herself. She surprised me by saying: "Well, if I could make so much trouble with my eyes, surely I can undo it with your help."
She did exactly what I told her to do, and more. She practiced conscientiously, and she never talked about her eyes to anyone until she was cured. She palmed for an hour every morning, from six until seven o'clock. She traveled morning and night for one hour on a railroad train, and never opened her eyes the whole time. Her friends did not trouble her after she asked them not to speak about her eyes. She practiced whenever she had time, with a newspaper or book type. She worked with a typewriter every day, and found that her memory helped in her work.
Sometimes she remembered a large, white imitation pearl of her earring, or she would remember the sparkle of a little diamond in her ring. A black period was out of the question entirely. If I mentioned a period to her, she would begin to stare. She said it reminded her of the blurry things she saw when her eyes first troubled her. She surely demonstrated that to remember an error is a strain.
Six weeks after I first treated her, she was cured without glasses. She now sees things clearly at the distance, but only when she blinks, which is just what the normal eye must do to keep the vision normal. Her friends have a good time with her, when she is in the mood, for she is constantly reminding them to blink.
A young man had worn glasses steadily for ten years. With his glasses on he read 10/15, and without them 10/30. His face became distorted as he tried to read the letters of the test card. He complained that the white of the card was a dazzling white, and gave him great pain when he made an effort. After palming for a few minutes, the wrinkles temporarily disappeared. I placed him in the sun, and as he looked down, I raised his upper eyelid, and focussed the bright rays of the sun on the white part of each eye-with the sun-glass. This took but a minute. We returned to the test card, and without a mistake, he read every letter. I told him to sit in the sun as much as possible, and let it shine on his closed eyelids, and to palm every day at intervals for at least an hour.
He never came back for another test, and I hope his cure was permanent.
A little girl, nine years old, who was quite near-sighted, had very poor sight even with her glasses on. I was told that while her vision was 'bad before she had put on glasses, her eyes had become much worse during the last year. She had worn them only one year, and I believe that they made her worse. The first day her vision without glasses was 7/200 with both eyes, and with each eye separately. I told her she would have to stop wearing glasses if she wanted to be cured. The child was afraid to do that, because her school teacher told her she should always wear them. Of course I became less enthusiastic about the cure of her eyes.
I gave her a treatment that day and improved her vision to 7/70 by having her palm for ten minutes or so, and then look at a letter on the test card at which I was pointing. I did not expect to see her again at the clinic, because she was disregarding my wishes by wearing her glasses, but she was there the next clinic day, holding her glasses in her hand. She said she had worn them every day only during school hours. At other times, after her home-work was finished, she practiced with the test card and palmed her eyes as much as possible.
I was surprised to find that her vision had improved even though she wore her glasses. Dr. Bates and I have been surprised more than once to find a patient get well, although they had worn their glasses for emergencies. This little girl attended the clinic four times, and her vision improved to 8/40.
One of the worst cases of progressive myopia I have had was that of a girl aged twenty-three. The glasses she wore were so thick, that her eyes appeared to be very small. In Philadelphia, where she lived, Dr. Bates' book, "Perfect Sight Without Glasses," is quite popular. It was through a friend who had the book that she heard of Dr. Bates. She was her mother's only support, which made it very hard for her to leave a good position as typist. She had come to our city mainly, to see Dr. Bates, who, she was sure, could cure her eyes after others had failed.
Being poor, Yetta could not afford to come for private treatment, so she came to the clinic. The clerk at the desk informed her that she could not receive treatment because she did not live in the district of the hospital. She was admitted that day, however, for just one treatment, and the privilege of an examination. Dr. Bates examined her eyes and said that her trouble was progressive myopia in a very severe form. He asked me what could be done, in order that we might treat her at the clinic. When a severe case like this comes to us, I long for a Bates Institute. I asked the girl if she could establish a residence near the clinic, so that we could treat her, and she agreed to try.
Yetta's vision without glasses was 2/200. I improved this the first day to 2/100, which was double what she had before. Her case required more time than I could give her, so she was instructed to palm her eyes for long periods all through the day in her room, and also in the evening, and to come just as soon as she could. She was told never to wear her glasses again. What a shock this was to her! How could she possibly get through the streets without them, she asked. I told her I could not undertake the task of trying to improve her vision unless she did so. I knew the hardships she would go through without her glasses, and I was sorry. As she left the room, I could see how helpless she was, but before she reached the end of the corridor, on went her glasses again. She had lost her courage very quickly, but I did not lose faith in her. Any girl who would leave her mother, home, and position, to have her eyes cured, would not give up altogether, even though she was tempted to put on her glasses again. Two days later she returned, and displayed her admittance card, showing that she now lived in the vicinity. Yetta was anxious for me to know that she had obtained a position as an attendant where she also had a home. She told me that she had broken her glasses. This was the best thing that could have happened, because I knew she would be all the more determined to be cured.
This time I placed the test card three feet from her eyes, and all she could see was the 200 line letter. The short swing, and blinking helped her, and in a few minutes her vision improved to 3/100. She came every clinic day, and was always ahead of time. Her progress was slow but sure, and her face, which looked all the world like a stone image with slits for eyes, now had a natural appearance.
She enjoyed the movies for the first time in her life, and was happy because she could go along the streets without fear of an accident. At a later visit, she flashed letters on the ten line of the test card at ten feet. She asked me if I went to church. The question was rather unexpected, but I told her I attended church, and was proud of the fact. I consider the clinic my church also. Hundreds of poor souls entered our room there, just craving for a kind word or two. The Jewish people stood beside the colored folks, the Germans with the Irish, Spaniards with Italians. Some were Catholic, others Protestant. Many other kinds of religions were represented, but the one God was worshipped by us all. A kind word and a smile were necessary, so we gave them to our patients in abundance. The Jewish girl explained that the reason for asking me the question, was that she had noticed that the kindly feeling which exists in most churches, also prevails in our clinic.
While our clinic now is not so large as it was at the Harlem Hospital, we have very interesting cases, and many of them are school children.
A little chap, aged seven, was one of my bright boys. His father was a carpenter who helped make the partitions in our office. We were treating patients long before our present office building was completed. He, therefore, had the opportunity to see some of the patients as they came to our clinic, and also when they left the office after their first treatment. He remarked that some cases appeared so much improved after only one treatment that it seemed as though a miracle had been performed. Since he was poor, I offered to help him or any of his family, if they should ever need treatment for their eyes.
"Oh!" he said, "I have two little boys, but there is nothing wrong with their eyes."
On April 12, 1924, just a year after I had spoken to him, his son, Frederick, came with his mother. While I was talking he was very attentive and his big blue eyes looked into mine. I think he was speculating whether I was all right or not. He seemed to feel at home with me right from the start so I had no difficulty in improving his vision. His mother told me that the school nurse had sent him home with a note saying that he needed glasses. His father refused to get them and suggested that the mother bring him to me. As Frederick answered my questions, he looked directly at me, and there was no sign of a frown or strain of any kind, but I did notice that he listened without blinking for two minutes or longer. As the normal eye blinks unconsciously every few seconds, I soon realized what his trouble was, and that he could be cured in a short time. Dr. Bates examined him with the ophthalmoscope and said there was nothing organically wrong with his eyes, merely eyestrain.
Since the letter test card troubled him at first, I had him read the card with E's pointing in different directions. As he looked at the card, his facial expression changed entirely. His forehead was a mass of wrinkles as he tried to see in what direction the E's were pointing. His vision with both eyes was 10/20. He read 10/20 with the right eye, and 10/30 with the left. I left him for half an hour after I had told him to palm and to be sure not to open his eyes until I said so. When I returned to him, I tested his vision again, and he read 10/10 with each eye separately. He blinked after seeing each letter, with no sign of a wrinkle or change in his face. His mother purchased a test card and promised to help him every day at home, before and after school. She was told to bring Frederick to the clinic again in a few weeks.
On May 3, 1924, I saw him again and he appeared very happy. His mother proudly told me that his report card showed the highest marks in all his school work. I wondered why Frederick did not look toward his mother while she was praising him. I did not have to wait long, however, to learn the reason. She had warned him before they arrived that she would tell me how careless he was with his stockings, and he did not wish me to know. Yes, Frederick had only one fault, said his mother,—making holes in the knees of his stockings. Of course, I said, this was a terrible crime but putting glasses on him would have been a worse crime.
Frederick gained a point when his mother smiled on him. The school nurse who had ordered him to get glasses noticed that Frederick did not frown any more. He could see the blackboard at any distance without trouble. The little fellow had been cured in one visit.
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