Stories From the Clinic
by Emily C. Lierman. Stories From the Clinic was first published in 1926.
DURING the war a great many women received treatment for their eyes. Many of them were employed in factories where American flags were manufactured and some of them could not see to do their work properly. Some had trouble in threading their needles, others complained that they saw double. One woman told me that she sometimes stitched her fingers in the blue field of the flag along with the stars. All of them asked for glasses, of course, but with the exception of a few, they were glad to be cured without them.
Among the patients was a woman about fifty who was very anxious to be cured. She spoke with a pronounced Irish accent, which amused the patients. Her distant vision was quickly improved by palming and flashing the letters on the Snellen test card. Then I gave her a card with fine print, and told her to hold it six inches from her eyes. Even though she did not see the letters, it would help her to alternately rest her eyes by closing them for a few minutes. She obtained good results immediately, and was enthusiastic in her appreciation.
"Sure, ma'am, may the good angels bless you for that!" she exclaimed. "I think this very minute I would be threadin' a needle if I had one. Me old man and the young ones at home will think it foine to have meself threadin' a needle."
It seemed that members of her family had been called upon to do this for her, and had found the task somewhat irksome.
The next clinic day she came again, and, although it was afternoon, she greeted me boisterously with the Irish salutation:
"Top o' the mornin' to you!"
"Top o' the mornin' to yourself," said I.
The patients all smiled at her remark. It does me good to see these poor unfortunate people smile a little, and I think it must cheer them, too.
She soon became able to thread her needle without any trouble, and she wanted everyone in the room to know it. The last time I saw her she said:
"Sure, ma'am, me eyes are very sharp now, for the minute I set eyes on me man when he comes home at night, I can tell by the twinkle in his eye whither he has had anything stronger than water or tay."
A woman, forty-eight years of age, told me that the first time she came to the clinic she thought she had entered the wrong place. Half a dozen people had their eyes covered with the palms of their hands, and she thought it was a prayer meeting. It was she who sewed her fingers to the flag with the stars.
"What I need is glasses," she said, "and that's what I am here for." But I soon convinced her that the glasses were unnecessary.
By having her alternately close and open her eyes I improved her sight for the Snellen test card from 15/40 to 15/20. Then I gave her the fine print to read, which was at first only a blur. I told her to palm, and imagine that she was sewing stars to the flag. When she opened her eyes her sight was worse. The very thought of those stars increased her strain and made her vision worse. This convinced her that her trouble was due to, strain, and that what she needed was to get rid of the strain. I asked her then to imagine more agreeable objects at the near point, such as a flower or the face of a friend. She at once became able to read the fine print, and her sight for the distance also improved. After four visits to the clinic, her vision both for the distance and the near point had become normal. It was quite easy for her to thread a needle and to do her work without glasses.
A woman of seventy-four, who had been coming to us for some time, worked every day in a place where she mended the children's clothes and did other sewing. She complained that her glasses did not fit her, and she could no longer see to sew with them. I gave her the card with the fine print:
"Do you mean to tell me," she asked, "that I will ever read that?"
"It is possible," I said.
Her smiling face was good to see, as she tried to follow my instructions. The print was larger on one side of the card than on the other, and I asked her to read the name printed in the larger letters. She could not do so at first. I told her to close her eyes, count ten, then open them and look at the card while she counted two, then repeat. In a few minutes she saw the name on the card and also the telephone number. She did the same thing with the diamond type on the reverse side, and after a while she became able to see some of the letters. Later she obtained further improvement, and after some months had no further difficulty in sewing the buttons on the children's clothes without her glasses. Covering her eyes with the palms of her hands while remembering perfectly, flowers or other pleasant things, always improved her vision. Once during a treatment I asked her to remember a daisy in a green field when she was in the country.
"There weren't any daisies but me while I was there," she answered. "I was the only daisy."
Frequently we find that colored people have difficulty in remembering their ages, especially when they are middle-aged or older. The colored woman in the present instance did not know her birthplace. One of the nurses was making a record of her age, name, and address, and then she asked her where she was born.
"Ah dunno where ah was born. How should ah know? It am so long ago—anyway it was a very hot place, dat's what ah knows."
Dr. Bates guessed her age to be about sixty or sixty-five years. Her eyes did not trouble her for reading, as she did not know how to read. But she complained that her eyes burned like fire, and that she could not see at a distance, nor thread a needle. Palming helped her, and the sun treatment relieved the burning of her eyes instantly. She had given up sewing several years ago, because, as she explained, "Ah just thought man eyes were givin' out."
After one month's treatment she could thread a needle easily, and her clothes were stitched instead of being held together with safety pins. Her vision improved so that she could read 10/10 on the pot hooks card, which has the letter E pointing in different directions. By that time she had been coming about eight weeks altogether.
A colored mammy had pain in the back of her eyes. She had visited a doctor before she heard of Dr. Bates, and was told that her eye trouble came from indigestion. After trying a diet for six months which was prescribed for her, with the result that the pain in her eyes still continued, she came to us with very little hope of being cured. When I had taken the record of her name and age, which she said was 52, I asked her if she had ever worn glasses.
"No, ma'am," said she. "And you never can make me wear them; I hate them, I do.
"You know, my mother had only one bad habit until she died, and thank the Lord it wasn't wearing glasses. She lived a good simple life, but my, how she did love her corn-cob pipe! But she never wore glasses."
With the test card I tested Mammy's sight which was 10/30 with each eye, I moved the card one foot further away and this caused such a strain that she could see only the 40 line. Then I told her to palm and asked her to describe one of the letters which she had seen on the card. As she did not answer me immediately I thought she had not heard, so I repeated my request. She answered, "Do you know, ma'am, for a minute I couldn't remember a single letter," I explained to her that such was often the case and not to worry about it.
I pointed to the letter E and asked her to close her eyes and describe it This she did by saying that it had a straight line at the top, also at the left and bottom, and that the right side was open. Before she opened her eyes I moved the card fifteen feet away.
Mammy had been palming about five minutes, still remembering the letter E of the forty line of letters. I stood beside the card with my finger pointing to the first letter next to the bottom line, called the fifteen line; then I said, "Before you open your eyes, please remember that you must not try too hard to see the letter at which I am pointing. If you do not see the letter immediately, do not worry about your failure to do so, but close your eyes again and remember the E for a few minutes." She opened her eyes and called correctly the letter R at which I was pointing. We were both very happy at the result, but I had her close her eyes again and remember the R better than she saw it. In less than five minutes she stopped palming and read all of the fifteen line correctly. I produced another card which she had not seen, and she was able to read the same line of letters as well. This proved that her vision had become normal.
Mammy thought she was cured, but I had my doubts as to her being able to read the fine print. When I held one of Doctor's fine print cards with diamond type six inches from her eyes, one would have thought that I had intended to strike her, for she drew back her head suddenly as the little card came in view. She shook her head sadly and said, "I shall never be able to read that fine print for you. That is too much to ask."
I answered, smiling at her: "No, you don't need to read it for me, read it for yourself."
She said she was willing if I would show her how. I told her to move the little card slowly from side to side, flashing the white spaces between the lines of letters without trying to read. She kept this up for ten minutes or longer and then she screamed as the letters began to clear up. Before Mammy left the clinic she read every word of the fine print card.
One evening while treating some patients in my home, I discovered that I had a new assistant. Baby Ethel, aged three, who had been living with us for over two years, came into the room and sat in a big armchair. She observed the treatment and listened to every word that passed between the patients and myself. Ethel has large blue eyes, and when she becomes excited or interested, her pupils dilate and the iris seems to change color.
When I told one of the patients to palm for ten minutes, Ethel placed her hands over her eyes also. She kept perfectly still for about two minutes, and then we heard a pitiful sigh. I watched, and presently two little fingers of her right hand began to separate, and she peeped. When she saw me smile, she quickly removed her hands from her eyes, and for a while she sat quietly. Presently she left the room to join other members of my family.
After the patients had departed, I discovered Ethel in a room, ordering my husband to palm. Her patient certainly needed to palm, and also to practice other things to improve his imperfect sight. Sometimes those whom we love are not easily persuaded to do the things that benefit them, but here was this little three-year-old very seriously giving him a treatment. She was pointing with her little finger to an imaginary test card on the screen door. She commanded; "Take down your hands and read the card. Do you see the R? Now close your eyes and 'member it," she ordered. Her patient responded in all sincerity. "Now open your eyes and read some more." He mentioned several letters and then she said: "Swing your body, side to side, and see letters swinging opposite."
He stood and swung as he was told, as her mother and I looked on in amazement, not daring to laugh, knowing that the little lady was very sensitive.
"Now," said she, "sit down and read some more letters."
He read faithfully, following her little finger as she touched various parts of the screen door. All of a sudden she complained!
"You are staring. You shouldn't stare; that is bad."
"Well," he asked, "what must I do, then?"
"You must blink your eyes. Just let me show you how."
She stood before him, blinking and swinging her body from side to side, looking as serious as a judge. At this moment, to my sorrow, we all laughed. I could not restrain myself a moment longer. That broke the spell, and my little three-year-old assistant began to cry. But since then her efforts have not been in vain, for I notice that her patient continues the treatment.
While we were sitting in our garden one day, an aeroplane passed overhead and, as it traveled on, my husband was able to see it miles away, until it became a small black spot in the distance. He then closed his eyes for a while, and afterward he read a newspaper for a half hour or so. It has been a long time since he was able to read for that length of time.
Whenever our friends called on us, Baby Ethel was always ready to show them how to palm and swing. She directed her mother to palm if her head ached, or if she suffered any pain. Ethel was sincere about it all, because, as she explained it, "Dr. Bates helps big people and little people that way in his office."
She knew Dr. Bates very well, and would talk to him about reading the test card to help children's eyes. She had perfect sight. Her eyes were never still, and she blinked unconsciously all day long. If only adults would follow her example there would be less eyestrain. I am very grateful to Baby Ethel for what she accomplished for my husband. Does not the Bible say: "And a little child shall lead them"?
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