Stories From the Clinic
by Emily C. Lierman. Stories From the Clinic was first published in 1926.
EYESTRAIN is very common among school children. The only remedy offered for the last hundred years or more has been glasses. An Italian boy was sent to us by his teacher to be fitted with glasses. Dr. Bates examined his eyes with the retinoscope and said he was only suffering from eyestrain.
I tested his sight with the test card and then told his mother, who accompanied him, that he could be cured without glasses. This interested her greatly. She had wonderful sight herself, for she could read the smallest letters on the card at more than fifteen feet. I gave her doctor's diamond type card, which she read, with perfect ease, at four inches and also at twelve inches from her eyes.
She told me that her age was thirty-eight and that she was the mother of ten children. With a great deal of pride, she said that they were all born in this country, and that they were all alive, too. Here was a real mother, I thought, proud of her big family. I enjoyed hearing her talk and encouraged her to do so. Like many of her race and sex, she had beautiful teeth and smooth olive skin. Although she was poor, her clothes were neat and clean, and Joseph was just as neatly dressed as she was. She looked at him smilingly and said: "Think of it, Joey, you don't have to wear glasses." Before this little talk Joseph seemed scared to death, as if something terrible were going to happen to him, but when his mother began to show confidence in me, he smiled and looked happy, as all normal boys do.
Both watched me very closely as I explained the method of palming to them. By palming is meant to close the eyes and cover them with either one hand or both and shut out all light; then to think of something that has been seen perfectly, or clearly, something pleasant such as a flower, a sunset, or a white cloud in a blue sky, and let the mind drift from one pleasant thought to another. Boys like to remember a baseball while palming. Little girls like to think of their dollies. Mothers like to remember the color of their babies' eyes. When palming is done correctly it relaxes the mind and body and relieves eye strain.
At fifteen feet Joseph read the fifty line before palming. After palming ten minutes, he obtained normal sight that day. When he read the card with each eye separately his left eye seemed to be the better of the two, because he made a few mistakes in reading the ten line letters with his right eye. He was encouraged to palm again for a few minutes, and then he became able to read 15/10 just as well with his right eye as he could with the left.
His mother stood where she could see all this, and beamed with happiness as she saw her little boy's sight improve. I started to explain to her the necessity of Joseph's resting his eyes as soon as he wakened in the morning, because he might have strained his eyes during sleep, also to rest his eyes again at noon, after school, and before bedtime. She listened very attentively and then she said: "Maybe you think you tell me something new, but I don't think so. All the time when I nurse my babies, I put up my one hand to my eyes as I close them, and I keep quiet while my baby is nursing. Then my baby goes to sleep quicker and easier and I am rested too." Surprised, I asked her who taught her to do this, and she answered, "Why, nobody did, I found that out myself." She was thankful, however, that Joseph did not have to wear glasses, and promised to help him every day until his eyestrain was entirely relieved.
She returned a week later with a good report of his progress. The test card I gave him for home treatment was used by the whole family. His mother tested the sight of all her children and found that two of her little girls also had eyestrain. She taught them to palm and cured them herself. Here was a busy mother with ten American citizens to help support and educate, and yet she found time to teach them how to obtain normal sight. I saw Joseph and his mother but twice, but he had suffered no relapse, nor did any complaint regarding his eyes come from the school which he attended.
The last time I saw the boy, he was anxious for me to know that his father, who had no trouble with his eyes at all, came home from his work one evening and thought the family were all playing peek-a-boo with him. The mother had them all busy palming, which was a strange sight to him.
Most people, like myself, have not the time to palm daily. However, if I suffer from eyestrain, which sometimes happens after a strenuous day, I find the memory of palming is all that I need to obtain relaxation. The memory swing, which Dr. Bates explained in one of our "Better Eyesight" magazines, has helped a great many patients. So it is with the memory of palming. In other words, remember how relaxed you were, and how free from strain the last time you were able to palm successfully, and this will help you through the day while at work, or at the theatre, or any place where it is impossible to place the palms of your hands over your eyes.
Almost all the patients who come to us at the clinic, and especially adults, think it necessary to concentrate in order to see more clearly. They regard concentration as part of our method of treatment, and until they learn better I cannot make any progress with them.
A young girl of eighteen or nineteen years of age had worn glasses for seven years, and had consulted oculists and opticians without getting any relief from the pain in her eyes. With her glasses her vision was 15/20, and without them 15/50 with each eye. She was unable to read fine print without glasses. When she closed her eyes I noticed a twitching of her eyelids. She was told to open her eyes and look at a letter on the card, then to close them and remember the blackness of the letter, thinking first of the bottom and then of the top, alternately. When a few minutes later she removed her hands from her eyes she could not see the letter which she had seen before.
I wondered why her sight did not improve, but I understood when she said: "I did what you asked me to do. You told me to remember the letter O, I concentrated and held on to it and tried hard not to remember anything else. But now my pain is worse than before."
"You did not understand me," I said. "I did not wish you to hold on to the letter O, I asked you to remember the blackness of it, and see or imagine one part best at a time."
She tried again, covering her eyes with her hands, and I said to her: "Remember the letter O as you saw it, but first remember the top. Now what happens to the bottom?"
"It fades from black to gray," she said.
"Now remember the bottom blacker than the top."
"The same thing happens to the top," she said. "It fades to a gray color." Then she added: "Please let me keep doing this for a while, it seems to take my pain away."
In a few minutes I had to ask her to remove her hands from her eyes, as I could not spend any more time with her, and I wanted to know if I had helped her. When she looked at the card again, she saw the O very plainly, and also read two more lines, the forty and the thirty. The twitching of her eyelids had ceased, and she smiled.
The patient came regularly and after three visits she read the ten line at fifteen feet. She became able to read diamond type at eight inches from her eyes. But when I held the type at six inches and asked her to fix her eyes on one corner of the card and stare at it, the whole surface became a blank. The pain in her head and eyes returned. Sometime later this girl wrote me a letter of gratitude thanking me for curing her. At the end of her letter was a postscript: "Now I know why a school for concentration failed. They were all wrong."
One day a little Irish mother came with her boy of eleven, who had terrible pain. Dr. Bates and I both listened to her story, the gist of which was:
"The school nurse six me boy needs glasses. Tis trouble he's having wid his eyes."
The boy constantly kept his eyes covered with a white cloth, and at first glance I thought he was crying, because the part of his face that I was able to see was much flushed. Dr. Bates examined his eyes with the retinoscope and then told me I could cure him very quickly, as he had no organic trouble. Then his mother began to talk again.
"Oi haven't any time to be foolin' 'round here, ma'am," she informed me. "Oi got to git back to me washin'. It's glasses he needs, ma'am, I tell ye."
When she finally stopped for want of breath, I said: "Now wouldn't it be fine and dandy to cure him so that he wouldn't need glasses?"
As I said this, down came the cloth from the boy's eyes. He was interested and returned my smile.
"Just you leave him to me and I will help him," I said to his mother. "And never mind leaving your work for him again. He can come here by himself."
"Sure ma'am, is it dreamin' ye are, or is it a bit o' blarney yer givin' me?" she inquired.
"No," I said. "It isn't dreaming or blarney. Be a good mother and watch your boy and see what happens."
I tested the boy's sight with the Snellen test card and found that his vision was 15/40 with each eye. Then I gave him a stool and showed him how to palm. Some minutes afterwards I told him to remove his hands from his eyes and look at the card. He stared at it as if some wild animal were after him. I discovered that his mother was threatening him, talking to him in a low tone. Evidently she thought she would please me by forcing him to do what I wished. By this time I knew that the boy was afraid of his mother, and I quietly invited her to take a comfortable seat outside the room. The boy informed me that his name was Joe, and as I smoothed his hair and gave him a few pats, the most affectionate look came into his eyes. Then we got down to business again. I told him to palm and reminded him of a baseball.
"Imagine you are throwing the ball," I said. "Blink your eyes to stop the staring and imagine that you are catching it. Now look at the card."
He smiled when he saw the letters come out blacker and more distinct than before. The redness of his face, which at first I had thought was from fever, left him, and his eyes of Irish blue were clear and wide open. I had to keep reminding him to blink his eyes all the time, He read the thirty line at fifteen feet and part of the twenty line, which I thought was doing well for the first visit. It occurred to me to see what would happen if he concentrated or stared. I told him to look at the first letter on the forty line, Z, and keep his mind fixed on it, no matter what happened. As he did this he began to frown, his forehead became wrinkled, and his face reddened again.
"I don't like to do that, nurse," he said. "All the other letters disappear and my head hurts."
I told him to palm and remember the letter Z, thinking first of the top, then of the bottom. When he looked at the card, he saw the letters clearly once more, and read all of the twenty line at fifteen feet. When he arrived at the ten line, however, the first letter bothered him. He twisted his head in all directions. He stared at the letter and finally decided to palm again. After a few moments I asked him to open his eyes, and told him that there were three of the same letters on the card, but that they were scattered here and there on the different lines. Again he started to read the card, and as he saw the first letter on the one hundred line, which was a D, he said: "Now I know that the first letter on the ten line is a D."
Shifting his eyes from the one hundred line to the ten line letter had helped him to see it.
His last visit was a very interesting one. At the beginning of the treatment I explained to him how important it was to practice palming at least six times a day. He did not feel that he could spare the time, because he earned a little money running errands for the neighbors. At a later visit I had a talk with him about this and said: "If your eyes are cured you can earn more money during vacation time, but you cannot if they trouble you."
He agreed to practice at home many times a day. My rose garden in the country was in full bloom, and I promised to bring him a bouquet the next clinic day. Not having enough flowers for each patient, I wrapped Joe's bouquet in paper and asked Dr. Bates to carry it. Joe spied me first as we passed the long line of benches which were filled with poor people, all of them with eye trouble. His hair was combed, which was unusual, and he was spruced up generally. He was smiling, too, and his eyes were shining with great expectations. But when he saw that my hands were empty, the smile vanished, and a look of disappointment came into his eyes. I know what it means to be disappointed, so I whispered to him at once that Dr. Bates was bringing the bouquet for him, and the sun shone for him once more. I was well repaid for those flowers, for that day Joe made wonderful progress.
He had to wait some time before I could treat him and he never took his eyes off me. I could feel his gratitude, and my impulse was to gather him in my arms and hug him tight; but t refrained, thinking he might resent the familiarity. He read the ten line at fifteen feet, in less than a minute, and he told me that he did not suffer any more pain in his head. He also said that his studies seemed easier to him when he remembered not to stare or think too hard of one thing.
So many patients tell me, when they first start treatment, that they have no mental pictures. They cannot seem to remember or visualize anything while palming. If the mind is under a strain, no amount of palming will improve the vision either temporarily or permanently.
A little girl, not quite three years old, had convergent squint of her left eye as a result of an attack of measles. In testing her vision I held the card up close and she was able to tell me which way all the E's of the E card were pointing. The squint was not so pronounced. But when I held the card five feet away from her eyes, the left eye turned in almost completely, that is to say, one could hardly see the iris.
I placed her little hands over her closed eyes and told her to think of her best dollie and tell me how it was dressed. I didn't expect her to tell me much because of her age, but the little tot surprised me. She lisped in her baby talk that her best doll had a pretty pink dress, and that her shoes were black and had straps on just like her own shoes. Her mother held her as she stood on top of a table, and when she looked at the test card five feet away, her left eye remained straight temporarily, while she read 5/30 without a mistake. Her mental picture of the doll was perfect. Describing the shoes and dress helped.
At one time I had four boys tinder treatment. They were between the ages of nine and twelve, and all were near-sighted. They stood in a row and while they palmed I talked about baseball. I described the ball, and they explained to me just how the ball field was arranged. After I had tested each one in turn and improved their vision, they were encouraged to palm more. Their mental pictures were of first and second base, a home run, seventh inning, and similar baseball features. The four boys obtained normal sight in leas than two hours that day. Two of them had 10/50 before treatment and improved to 10/10. The other two had 10/40 and 10/30 before treatment and improved to 15/10.
A young mother was being treated for headaches. Ever since she could remember she had suffered severe pain in the back of her head and eyes. Glasses were put on her when she was a small child, but they did not relieve her pain. One of her neighbors told her how Dr. Bates had cured her of eyestrain, so she came feeling that she, too, could be benefited.
Palming did not give her any relief at first. She had attacks of hysteria, but I was always able to quiet her when I asked her about her children,—two girls and a baby boy. While we were talking she was palming. I noticed that the corners of her mouth drooped, and as she talked she had no control of her tears. I had a strong desire to place my arms about her. When I discovered that her baby boy was much loved in the family, I questioned her about him.
I said: "Tell me the color of baby's eyes. I love little boys. Describe him to me."
A smile was noticeable as she answered: "His eyes are brown and his hair is blonde; and you ought to see the two dimples he has when he smiles. I must not forget to tell you that he has two teeth, and when he smiles you just have to smile with him."
I watched her as she talked. The drooping corners of her mouth had been supplanted by a smile. Before I had time to tell her to remove her hands from her eyes, she did so herself. With a sigh of relief she looked at me and said: "I have no pain now, I feel so good I want to laugh and sing." A mental picture of her baby boy, remembering and explaining all about him was a relaxation, a benefit to her. She attended the clinic six months before she obtained normal vision permanently. She had a high degree of myopia when she first came, and her vision was 10/200 with both eyes.
During the first few weeks her pain would return, but each time it was less severe. When she became able by herself to form mental pictures, her pain would disappear and her vision improve. At times, when her mental pictures were imperfect, her vision was lowered, and this always caused an attack of hysteria. Later her vision steadily improved, her pain disappeared, and toward the end of six months she obtained normal sight, 10/10.
During the six months of her treatment she had to be encouraged frequently by her husband or sister to palm every day. The swing of her body from side to side, while blinking and remembering something pleasant, always helped her pain. To take care of her children and do her household duties was quite enough for any woman, but she made time to practice and was well repaid.
After the World War we treated many of the boys on their return from France. One of them had been gassed. His mind was very clear and he related some interesting things that happened overt there. I noticed, however, that when he described something unpleasant or horrifying, he stared and the sclera or white parts of both his eyes became bloodshot. His vision was normal both for the distance and the near point when he did not stare or become excited. He said the only thing that kept; him from going insane while he was at the front, was the knowledge that his little son, who was born after he arrived in France, was waiting for his return. He saw his pal shot to pieces almost by his side. His mental pictures were not pleasant ones, but when a photograph of his wife and baby arrived, he carried that picture with him all the time.
I showed him how to palm and told him how necessary it was to think only of pleasant things while palming. He told me many things about his little boy, and how proud he was of him. I kept him busy talking while he palmed for a half hour, and then I asked him to remove his hands from his eyes. His eyes were no longer bloodshot. The sclera was as white and clear as that of my own eyes. I told him to return for more treatment, deciding to use the sun-glass if necessary. He said that if his mental pictures did not help in his home treatment, he would surely return. I never saw him again.
Eyestrain is a discomfort not only to the sufferer but also to his family and friends. A girl, aged twelve, had intense pain in her eyes and head. Her tired-looking mother told me that the child kept her awake at night with her moaning. She had taken her to another, doctor in the hospital, and he, failing to relieve the pain, had sent her to Dr. Bates, thinking that her eyes might need attention. Dr. Bates examined the child, and without telling me what the trouble was, told; "Here is a good case for you; cure her quickly."
The poor child could scarcely open her eyes, and her forehead was decidedly wrinkled, I tested her sight, and at twelve feet she read the fifty line on the test card, which had figures on it instead of letters. While reading the card she said that her pain was not so bad. I told her to close her eyes and asked her to imagine that she saw the blackboard at school, and that she was writing the figure 7 upon it with white chalk. She could do this, she said, and then I asked her to open her eyes and look at the black 7 of the thirty line. She saw it very distinctly, and I noticed that her eyes had opened wide and that the wrinkles in her forehead had disappeared. The mother noticed this too, and exclaimed: "See how wide open her eyes are!"
Evidently the pain had gone, for after a moment, the little girl cried out in great excitement: "Oh, that pain is coming back!"
I told her to close her eyes at once and remember the figure 7, Noticing how much she had been helped by her imagination, I told her to imagine the black figure blacker than she had seen it with her eyes open. She did this, and when she opened her eyes in a few minutes the pain had again disappeared and her vision had improved to 12/20.
After telling her mother that the cause of all the child's trouble had been eyestrain, and that if she would palm and use her imagination she would be well in a few weeks, I sent her home. Imagine my surprise when two days later she came to the clinic, with her eyes wide open, grinning from ear to ear, and having a gay old time with a school friend whom she had brought with her. She told me that only once, during the first evening after she came to the clinic, had she suffered any return of the pain. Then she had closed her eyes and covered them with the palms of her hands, because she remembered seeing other patients in the room doing so on her first visit. First she imagined that she saw a figure 7, black on a white background. Then she imagined white roses and daisies with yellow centers, and green fields. She went to sleep soon after and did not wake up till morning. She had had no pain at all since that night, and when I tested her sight I found it normal, 10/10, with both eyes together and each eye separately. I was happy to have accomplished in two days what I expected would require two weeks. The patient was instructed to keep on practicing and to report at least once a week at the clinic, but she did not come again.
A boy named Harry, aged eleven years, also came to us with pain in both eyes. He had been sent to us from the public school for glasses. Reading made him nervous, he said, and he did not wish to read anything on the test card but the large letters. I had him stand fifteen feet from the card, and asked him to read the letters slowly and to see only one at a time. Noticing that he was extremely nervous, I lowered my voice and talked to him as I would to a child much younger. This seemed to have a soothing effect, for immediately he seemed less nervous and shy, and he was able to read the forty line with his left eye, and the fifty line with his right eye at fifteen feet. I showed him how to palm. This seemed to afford him much amusement, but he did it faithfully because he wanted to please me, not because he thought it would help his sight.' When he opened his eyes he read the twenty line with the left eye, but the vision of the right had not improved, and he complained that the pain was still as bad as ever.
I told him to palm again, and while his eyes were covered I asked him if he ever saw a large ship getting ready to sail. He said, yes, he had seen some of our warships on the Hudson River. I asked him what he could imagine he saw on one of these vessels. He became intensely interested, and was no longer inclined to be restless.
"Why," he said, "I can imagine a rope ladder on the side of the ship and sailors walking on the deck, and I can imagine black smoke coming out of the smokestack." Before I told him, he uncovered his right eye and read all of the letters on the forty line and some of the thirty line. He said that the pain had gone, and that the letters looked blacker to him and the card whiter than before. He attended the clinic regularly, and became able to read 15/10—better than normal—with both eyes. He still complained about a little pain in the right eye, but when he palmed and imagined that he was playing baseball, or doing other pleasant things, his pain stopped and he always left the clinic smiling. For about six months or so after Harry was cured, he continued to visit me and became a very good assistant. He deserves a great deal of credit for the good work he did in relieving eyestrain among school children after he was cured.
An Austrian woman, aged thirty-seven years, complained of pain in her eyes and head. At the age of two years she had become totally blind after a fever, and had remained so for a year and a half, during which time she suffered continual eye pain. When her sight returned, strong glasses were prescribed but they did not relieve her pain. Neither did the glasses given to her later by various physicians. Finally an optician, finding that glasses did not help her, suggested that she try Dr. Bates and our clinic.
At her first visit her pain was relieved by palming, and her vision improved from 10/70 to 10/40. She was so pleased that she smiled and kissed my hands. At times the pain had made her sick at her stomach, she said, and she was unable to retain her food.
She was instructed to continue the palming at home, and to keep it up for an hour at a time whenever possible. For a while she got on very well. Her vision improved to 10/20 and whenever she felt the pain coming on she palmed, invariably obtaining relief.
Then came a day when I found her with tears in her eyes. She had had a sleepless night and had suffered so intensely that her family was frightened. Her eyes felt as though sand were pouring out of them onto the pillow. I asked her if her eyes were still paining her, and she answered tearfully, "Yes."
I felt that if I could relieve the tension and get her mind relaxed she would feel better. I placed her comfortably on a stool, and while her eyes were covered I began to talk to her about her children. She soon forgot her pain in telling me what beautiful eyes her baby had, and how thrilled the family had been when the first tooth appeared. I encouraged her to keep on talking, and told her to imagine that she saw her baby smile, while her eyes were covered. When she uncovered her eyes, the most remarkable change had come over her face. All traces of pain had disappeared, and she smiled. She agreed with me that when she did not worry and thought only of pleasant things, her mind was at rest and she suffered no pain.
One day after she had been coming to the clinic for a year or more she was arranging to send some money to Austria and trying to fill out the necessary papers. As she was about to write her mother's name, everything before her became a blank and she experienced an intense pain accompanied by a burning sensation in her eyes. She was so frightened that she wanted to cry, but suddenly she thought about the clinic and how her pain had been relieved by the palming. She covered her eyes with the palms of her hands for a little while, and then the pain became less and the questions on the paper began to clear up. When she tried to write, however, everything became a blank once more. Again she palmed, and this time her sister, who was with her, reminded her that she must palm for a longer time if she wanted to get results. She tried it again while her sister encouraged her to remember something perfectly with her eyes closed. When she removed her hands from her eyes the print before her appeared perfectly distinct, she wrote the necessary answers without any difficulty, and had no more trouble with her eyes that day. To think that she had been able to improve her sight and relieve her pain without our assistance delighted her.
Among others waiting for treatment was a young colored girl, aged seventeen, who tried in vain to keep her eyes open. She made alt sorts of grimaces and her mouth was distorted as she kept trying to see things about her. One of our private patients who came to visit the clinic was standing beside me and as she observed this colored girl, remarked: "Isn't she disagreeable-looking?"
My visitor was surprised when I answered: "She is in pain and cannot possibly look natural."
I was eager to treat this girl because I felt that it was possible to relieve her suffering. She did not return my smile but I forgave her. I could not induce her to even glance at the test card because she said the light caused so much pain in her head and eyes. I told her to close her eyes. Then I took her hands and placed one over each eye to shut out all the light. She was reluctant to keep her eyes covered, but when I explained that this was palming and that it would help her to be cured, she behaved very well and sat quite still for fifteen minutes. I did not use the test card again for her that day, but the palming helped her so that she could open her eyes in a natural way with less pain. She was instructed to rest her eyes by palming frequently.
Two days later she appeared again and said that palming did not always help her, I decided to try the sun treatment and see if that would help. I placed her on a stool at a window where the sun shone in, and told her to look down as far as possible, to be sure that she would not glance up at the sun during the treatment. I raised her upper lid, and with a sun-glass flashed the strong rays of the sun on the white part of the eye. This required only a fraction of a minute and the effect was instantaneous. The first thing she did was to look up at the sun and then at me. What a change came over her face! For the first time she smiled and showed her pearly white teeth. All she said was: "Pain is all gone, ma'am."
She returned again every sunshiny day for more sun treatment, but she no longer complained of pain. The sun treatment had cured her. When I tested her eyes later with the test card, she read 10/10 with each eye separately.
Patients who are cured quickly of imperfect sight are those who become able to improve their memory and their imagination quickly and without effort. A little girl named Madeline, aged ten years, came with her mother, who was very anxious to have her child cured without glasses. The mother had been notified by Madeline's school teacher that her daughter could not read correctly what was written on the blackboard from her seat, which was about ten feet away. She was one of the daintiest little girls I have ever seen. I can imagine her as one of the white fairies written about in our little magazine, which I believe a great many children enjoy. I feel sure that there are many mothers among our subscribers, and that they realize the relaxation and rest which is given to the child-mind, as the mother reads about the good fairies just before the sandman comes.
This is how Madeline was cured in one visit. She stood ten feet from the test card, and read all the letters correctly down to the twenty line, 10/20, but the letters were not clear and black to her. She was told to palm for ten minutes or so. Then she read the card again, and this time the letters appeared clear and black.
The mother was told to notice how she stared when trying to see one of the smaller letters of the fifteen line. I told Madeline that she must blink all the time to prevent staring, which always lowered the vision. As she glanced at the letters each time she moved to the left, and then to the right, not forgetting to blink, her vision improved to 10/10. She was placed in another room, fifteen feet from another card, which she had not seen, and without a stop she read all the letters of the card. Desiring to find out if I could improve her vision further with the aid of her memory, I told her to close her eyes and palm, and to remember something she had seen without effort or strain. She answered: "I cannot think of anything just now, and the more I try the less am I able to do as you wish." I asked her then to tell me what lesson she liked best at school. "Oh! I just love arithmetic," she said.
While she palmed, I gave her some figures to add. I started with easy ones at first, like nine, three and eight. She added as quickly as I announced them. Then I made the lesson more difficult, but she did not once make a mistake. All this time she was smiling and enjoying the whole thing. We kept this up for fifteen minutes, and then while her eyes were still closed, I moved the test card as far away as I could place it, which was eighteen feet. Madeline was told to remove her hands from her eyes and stand and swing as she did before. She read every letter on the card correctly. Her vision had improved to 18/10 by the aid of her memory for figures.
Madeline was cured quickly because she was able to remember figures perfectly. Her mental pictures of them were perfect. Her mind was relaxed, and by the aid of the swing and remembering to blink often, as the normal eye does, she had no more eyestrain.
Not long ago a little boy, aged seven years, was brought to me. His nurse, who was extremely fond of him, did not want glasses put on the little fellow, He told me emphatically that he would not wear them,—no one would dare put them on him, he said.
His little forehead was wrinkled as he tried to read even the largest letters of the test card at ten feet. I asked the nurse to sit where she could watch him at the start, and then see the change that I was sure would come to his face after he was taught to read without effort or strain. With each eye separately he read 10/50. As he tried to read further he wriggled and twisted his little body around in the big arm-chair where I had placed him.
"Now," I said, "little man, just close your eyes and place your hands over them and shut out all the light Sit still, if you like."
"Oh," said he, "I like sitting still if I keep my eyes covered, but I don't like doing it too long."
I said: "All right, keep them covered for a little while and I will read you a fairy story that tells something about the elephant, too."
That was all that was necessary. My patient sat perfectly still as I read the whole fairy tale. The nurse remarked that for a long while he had not been able to sit still for more than five minutes at a time.
After the fairy story was finished, I told the little chap to stand, feet apart, with eyes still closed, and I guided him in moving his body from right to left until he became able to do so gently by himself. Then he was told to open his eyes and keep moving or swinging his body to the right and then to the left. He was directed to blink his eyes while doing this.
He exclaimed with great surprise: "My! the card and letters seem to be moving opposite."
I said: "That's right, my boy; now follow my finger as I point to the letters." He did, and to our surprise he read the whole card without a mistake, 10/10. The wrinkles in his forehead were gone. I told the nurse to help him many times every day with the test card just as I had. She promised also to bring him back to me if he had any relapse. So far I have not heard from her. I do believe that my little boy was cured in one visit.
Some years ago I was asked to go to Sing Sing prison at Ossining, N. Y., to assist in examining the eyes of some of the prisoners, I firmly believe that if some of the prisoners had had no eyestrain, their minds would not have turned to crime.
A foreigner who was imprisoned for arson, told me in a few words how sorry he was that he set a building on fire for the sum of five dollars. He could not get work, he said, because he had bad sight. As a new baby was coming into his home where there were already three, he was desperate and, not realizing how wrong it was, he did as he was bidden. Here was a foreigner who could hardly speak English, who was willing to do most anything for a wonderful five-dollar bill, in order to help his wife.
Four years had already been spent in prison. Through the kindness of Warden Osborne, who was at that time doing such wonderful work inside the prison, he was allowed to live in a cell where there was a little bit of sunshine now and then. Prom being in a dark cell for a whole year, before Mr. Osborne came, the sight of his right eye WM practically destroyed.
There were so many patients in the room, sent there to be examined by Dr. Bates, that we had very little time to devote to each one individually. I arranged a test card on a desk and placed this man about five feet away. In just a few moments the sight of his good eye improved from 5/200 to 5/50.
He was so overjoyed that he fell on his knees before me and held my two wrists very tightly. He pleaded with me to help him out of prison if that were possible. He was eager to go to the new baby who had arrived after his sentence. Some people might say: "Oh, yes, he told you a hard luck story." Nevertheless I can understand enough to convince me that, if conditions had been better for him when he came to this country, he might never have committed this crime.
Sometimes as I go along the streets or ride in a car early in the morning to my work, I watch a policeman as he walks his beat looking in at each store window. He is told to do so to protect the storekeepers. I wish there were policemen who understood the fitting of glasses, to invade the stores of those opticians who fit people with wrong glasses. They should be brought to justice.
I have found that many patients who come to us at the clinic are wearing the wrong glasses for their eyes. It is not always eyestrain which causes trouble, but the mistake of the optician who commits a terrible error.
I would like to tell about a recent case, a girl, eleven years of age, who had myopia with glasses on, and almost normal vision without them. As I do not test the strength of eye-glasses of the cases which come to me, I was not at all sure whether the child was wearing them for fun or not. The first question that came to my mind was, whether she was wearing someone else's glasses. I asked Dr. Bates to teat them.
At 15 feet I asked her to read the test card, and with glasses on she read 15/100. I took off her glasses and she stared at the card, that was all. I told her to do the usual thing, just close her eyes to rest them for a moment or so. When she opened her eyes again and looked at the card, she read without a stop from the 200 line letter down to the last letter of the 20 line. She looked at me in great surprise and smiled. The discovery that she made seemed to give her a thrill.
I asked her who fitted her for glasses. She said that the school nurse had called to see her mother and complained that the child could not see the blackboard, nor read the test card when her eyes were examined in School: Her mother immediately took her to an optician to be fitted for glasses. She said that the optician had charged her mother $4.50 for glasses and for the examination of her eyes. To my mind this was not only an error but a crime.
When I told her it was a great mistake for her to wear those glasses, she promptly put them away in the case and begged me to help her some more. She obtained normal sight that day, but did not return again for treatment. A schoolmate who was with her the day she came, told me that she did not wear glasses any more. She sat in the back seat of her class-room, showing off to her teacher for all she was worth, reading the blackboard better than she ever did in her life. She also told me that the patient informed the teacher about our clinic and taught her how to palm. She is surely spreading the work of Better Eyesight in the classroom, and can do more than I because she is right there.
There are many people generally considered insane, who are really under a severe mental strain, which can be relieved by relaxation. A young man, aged 27, had large staring eyes, which would make anyone uncomfortable to look at him. I asked what his trouble was. He smiled and said: "Now, that's just what I am trying to find out. Nobody seems to want me. Everybody thinks I am crazy."
I answered: "You are wrong; I don't think you are crazy." Just the same this poor fellow did make me sort of creepy. I was just a little afraid of him, but dared not show my fear.
He had much to say, but the main thing he wanted me to know was that he was not insane. When he calmed down a bit, I said: "Now let me say something. I know that you are staring so badly that if you don't stop it you can easily become insane or blind."
I wanted him to understand that I could not help him nor anyone else, if he continued staring his eyes out of his head. I asked Dr. Bates to examine his eyes and to tell me what treatment was best for him. The doctor reported that there was nothing organically wrong with his eyes, but that he was under a terrible mental strain. I understood very well what was before me when Dr. Bates said: "I think you had better knock on my door if the patient tries you too much."
After I had taken his name and address, I asked him where he was employed. His eyes protruded and he stared without blinking, as he answered: "Didn't I tell you that no one wants me? I cannot get any work. America is at war. Does Uncle Sam want me? No, I have been to all the recruiting stations here in New York, and all of them have refused me. I want to fight for my country, but they won't give me a chance."
He actually wept and I could not refrain from crying too. His mind was affected, yes, but when he was calm all he could think of was Uncle Sam and how he wanted to fight for him. I had not been acquainted with him half an hour when I understood easily enough why the United States could not use him. He demonstrated to Dr. Bates and to me very clearly that one cannot have normal vision with a mental strain. I placed him ten feet from the test card and told him I wanted to test his vision. He answered: "I hope you will be able to improve my sight, because I think my nervousness will also improve."
He read a few lines of the card, but when he reached the fifty line, he leaned forward in his chair, wrinkled his forehead, and his eyes began to bulge. At that moment a small mirror from my purse came in very handy. I held it before him and the expression of his face changed immediately from strain and tension to a look of amazement. He waited for me to speak, and what I said affected him deeply. He covered his face with his hands and wept. I kept quiet but touched his shoulder lightly to reassure him. When he raised his head a few moments later, he said: "Maybe that is why they refused me. I guess they saw what you saw. No wonder they thought I was crazy."
I feared more hysteria, so I said that if he would let me help him, no doubt the U. S. Army would be glad to admit him into the service. After his first visit, he left the office, feeling much encouraged. I could not improve his vision beyond the fifty line that day, and decided not to test each eye separately. All I could record was 10/50 with both eyes.
A week later he came again. Apparently he had forgotten to practice. His vision was still 10/50 with both eyes. I directed him to cover one eye and read the card with the other. His vision with each eye separately was the same, namely, 10/50. He told me that I had encouraged him so much that he tried again to enlist.
I said: "You cannot expect to win out unless you take time to practice. This you must do all day long. When you tire of palming, keep your eyes closed and imagine something perfectly."
While I was telling him all this, he had his eyes covered with his hands, and was moving his body from side to side, very slowly. What he did next certainly frightened me. Without removing his hands from his eyes he asked in a loud voice: "Do you mind if I sing 'America' while I am reading the card?"
I answered: "No, but perhaps the other patients might object Just wait a moment and I will ask the doctor."
Dr. Bates said that if singing was his way of relaxing, by all means let him sing. That was all that was necessary. He sang every word without a mistake, and after each verge he would stop long enough to read the card. After the first verse he read two more lines, 10/30. When he finished the hymn, he also finished reading the whole card without a mistake. He blinked his eyes as he moved his body from side to side, and I noticed a great change in the expression of his face. I directed him to sing "America" when he practiced reading the test card at home, every day. He left us in a very happy mood and promised to practice as he was told.
We did not hear from him until a year later when we received a letter from him, written from Bellevue Hospital, but mailed by a friend outside. In his letter he stated that he was all right, although he was confined. He also explained why he was sent there. It seems that when he applied at a recruiting station for enlistment, they found his vision imperfect. When he insisted that if they would only let him sing "America" his vision would at once become normal, the officers of the recruiting station considered this statement so absurd that they believed he must be crazy. He was at once sent to the insane ward of Bellevue, where he was promptly admitted. While there, he wrote a play of three acts, all about the doctors, the nurses, and patients. It was well written, and after he had persuaded some of the doctors to read it, they recommended his discharge.
He called to see us and I found his vision normal, 10/10. His mental strain was relieved and did not return except temporarily, when he became excited and talked rapidly.
Just before the war, a Jewish woman, sixty-three years of age, begged me to help her eyes.
"Please don't bother trying to cure me," she said, "that is too much to expect, and anyhow I am an old lady, so what does it matter?"
Her eyes were half shut, because the light troubled her, and she felt more comfortable with the lids lowered. She told me that she was suffering great pain in both her eyes and her head, and when I had her look at the test card at ten feet, it was all a blur to her. I showed her how to palm, but the position tired her, and she said she was not accustomed to praying so long—she was quite a sinner. As she weighed over two hundred pounds, and was sick in both mind and body, I asked her how much she ate every day.
"Oh, I don't eat much—nothing to speak of at all," she said. "In the morning I eat eggs, or something like that, rolls, butter, and coffee. Then about ten o'clock I have a few slices of bread with more butter and more coffee. At noon I have soup, bread, butter, and more coffee. For supper I have bread, butter, meat, vegetables, and more coffee. That's all."
She took more food in one day than I did in three, and when I told her she ate too much, it appeared to frighten her, for she stayed away for two weeks. Eating, no doubt, was one of the few pleasures she had in life, and she did not wish to be deprived of it.
When she returned, I persuaded her to palm, and this improved her sight to 10/50. It also relieved her pain markedly, and when I told her that she would obtain more help for her eyes and her body generally, if she would eat less, she agreed to do so.
In spite of her pain and misery, my patient had always been full of humor, and her witty remarks had been a source of much amusement to me; but one day, just after the declaration of war, I found her in a corner of our room, weeping. When I asked her to read the test card for me, she said with tears, "Please, Nurse, I can't see anything today. My two sons have enlisted, one as a marine and the other as an aviator, and they are never coming back, I am afraid. I cannot sleep. My heart is breaking."
From the beginning I felt that she was a devoted mother, and as I am always drawn to good mothers, I felt a great pity for her grief. In order to get her mind off her pain, I encouraged her to talk about her boys.
"How proud you must be to have two sons to fight for your country and for you," I said. "I wish I had ten sons, I would give them all for my country."
These remarks were not very consoling, I admit, in the presence of a sorrow like this, and the stricken mother refused to be comforted. But when I said, "You wouldn't be proud of them if they were cowards, and Uncle Sam wouldn't want them if they were criminals in jail," she straightened up and said:
"You are right, they are brave boys, and I am proud of them."
I tested her sight again with the card, and found it better than ever before.
"You have the true medicine," she said. "I am coming again. I do not know why I can see so well now, after being so blind a few minutes ago."
I squeezed her arm above the elbow, and asked: "Do you feel that?"
"Yes," she replied.
"Well, that is just what you are doing to the muscles of your eyes, and the strain blinded you. When you relaxed, the pressure was relieved, and the sight improved. It was the pressure that lowered the vision."
At a later visit, she brought a package to me, explaining that she had no money, but wanted to express her gratitude. I took the package home, and when I opened it, I found a loaf of delicious real bread—not Hoover bread. My neighbors were very envious of me, because the only bread they could obtain during the war had a flavor like that of sawdust. At the time, I appreciated that bread more than a five-dollar bill.
Every time the patient came to the clinic, we talked about her boys for a few minutes, and it certainly had a good effect upon her eyesight. When the war ended, and the boys came home, every one who would listen heard of the great things they had done "over there." One would have thought one was attending an annual convention of some sort instead of an eye clinic.
During the war and for some time after, the patient came more or less regularly to the clinic. Palming always helped her, but as she complained that it made her arms ache to hold her hands over her eyes, I simply had her close her eyes without palming. This also helped her. One day I placed her further from the card than usual, and asked her how much she could see. She replied:
"Now you know I am an old woman, and I guess my eyes are getting old too. I cannot see so far."
I told her to close her eyes and rest them; forget that she had eyes, and think of black velvet, or her black hat. A few minutes later she read 10/20 and her eyes had a natural appearance. She became very much excited and asked me what I did to her.
Dieting also helped her eyesight and nerves very much, but she could not always bring herself to forego the pleasure of eating what she wanted. She forgot most of the things I told her to do at home, but I don't think she ever forgot a meal, nor did she realize the quantity of food she consumed when she gave free rein to her appetite. If she had always done as she was told, I am sure she would have been completely cured. As it was, her improvement was remarkable. Not only did she become able to read 10/20, but at the time she stopped coming to the clinic, she said that the pain and discomfort in her eyes had entirely ceased. She was sleeping better, and her general physical condition was much improved.
Her case made me realize more clearly than ever the relation of mental strain to defective vision. I could not help her until I found out what was worrying her, and when, by means of a little sympathy, I was able to get her mind off her trouble, or make it seem less to her, her nerves always relaxed. It was very interesting, the way a pleasant conversation, without other treatment, unproved her vision. The experience was afterward a great help to me in treating other patients. In the rush of work at the dispensary, it often seemed as if I could not take the time to talk to the patients, to get acquainted with them, to let them tell me about their troubles. I know now that this is not a waste of time, but a very necessary part of the treatment.
When eyestrain is relieved, all other strains may be relieved. Asthma belongs to a large class of diseases with symptoms which may result from nervous or mental disturbances instead of from organic disease. Asthma has been called "functional neurosis." It was not strange, therefore, that this patient should note an immediate improvement in her breathing after palming, and that this treatment, in combination with hygienic measures, should have permanently relieved the trouble. Many similar cases could be reported, and even when organic disease has been present, the subjective symptoms have been mitigated.
During one of the summer months a woman with asthma came for treatment. She was forty years of age, but looked older. It was evident from the wrinkles m her forehead and her half-shut eyes that her vision was imperfect. She told me that she had continual pain and I could see that she had great difficulty in breathing. Her spirit was unbroken but her nervousness was something of a problem to me. She talked to any one in the room who would listen to her, and in order to preserve peace in the clinic, I had to keep her as much as possible by herself. I was sorry to do this, because her good humor was contagious and made the patients forget their pain and other troubles. We could not have the work brought to a standstill, even for such a desirable end as this.
The state of her eyesight did not seem to trouble her. It was her asthma about which she was concerned. When I asked her to read the test card, she said: "Please, ma'am, help me to breathe first; I have asthma and want you to help me; never mind my eyes."
"You are in the wrong room for asthma treatment," I replied. "Let me do something for your eyes, and then I will send you to another room where a doctor will treat you for asthma."
She smiled, evidently pleased that I had not sent her away, and proceeded to read the card, as I had asked her to do. Her vision was 10/30 in each eye. I told her to palm and on no account to remove her hands from her eyes until I returned to her. It was fully a half hour before I was able to do this, and when I told her to uncover her eyes, she asked: "What makes me breathe so easily?"
"The palming has helped you," I replied.
Her vision improved to 10/15 with each eye and she reported that the pain in her chest and back had gone. I gave her some advice about her diet, told her to drink plenty of water, and asked her to come to the clinic three days a week.
On the next clinic day, to my disappointment, I did not see her. I concluded that she did not care to bother about her eyes, although she was temporarily cured. I also doubted her willingness to give up the foods and beverages I had told her not to take, including meats and pastries. I had advised her not to drink strong tea and other liquids much stronger than tea. New patients were continually coming, however, so the poor woman with asthma went completely out of my mind. Two months later she rushed into the clinic like a cyclone. Most of these poor people do not think about waiting for their turn, so I have to forgive them when they break the rules. This woman did not think it necessary to wait until I had finished with the patient I was treating. As soon as she saw me she yelled in a loud', excited voice: "Please, ma'am, I didn't forget you) I didn't forget myself, either! I felt so good after you treated me, I just palmed and palmed every day for hours and I began to breathe so much better. My health improved and I went out and got a job right away. During the day my madam allowed me to rest my eyes, and I ate very sparingly. Sure, ma'am, it was no joke either, for I just love to eat good and lots of it; but I remembered what you said, and so I behaved myself. I must have starved the asthma away."
"I am very glad to hear all this," I said. "Now let me lee what the palming did for your eyes."
Her vision had improved to 10/10 in two months. She accomplished the result, not I. When I praised her, she replied: "God bless you! You don't know how happy I am. I am working and supporting myself now for the first time in four years. But what surprises me most is that I have not been drowned by this time with all the water I have been drinking."
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