Stories From the Clinic
by Emily C. Lierman. Stories From the Clinic was first published in 1926.
MANY times I have been asked, "Is it really possible to cure cataract by Dr. Bates' method?" I can prove that it is. In the March, 1920, number of "Better Eyesight," I wrote about a case of cataract under treatment at the Harlem Hospital Clinic. This case was a woman, seventy-three years old, who was determined to be cured without an operation. In October, 1916, she had visited another dispensary where an operation was advised. The doctors there told her, however, that she must wait until the cataract was ripe before the operation could be performed. Later she heard about Dr. Bates curing cataract without an operation, and tried out the method as well as she could all by herself. In March, 1919, she visited Dr. Bates in his office, and he helped her.
This woman made her living by mending clothes in an orphanage, so we were glad to treat her in the clinic where she did not have to pay. Three days a week she came, no matter how bad the weather was.
On her first visit, she read the forty line at four feet from the test card, then her vision blurred. She knew just what to do, and I did not have to tell her to palm. Just once she peeped at me through her fingers and said, "I'll fool the other doctors yet. My eyes won't have any cataract if I keep this up." She kept her eyes covered for about ten minutes, and when she read the test card again, her vision had unproved to the twenty line, or 4/20. On another day she read 5/20. In June, three months after her first visit, her vision had improved to 8/15.
She became able to thread a needle without any trouble and never put on her glasses again. We did not see her during the summer, but she returned again in September of the same year. Her vision had improved to 8/10 with both eyes. I asked her if she had practiced with the test card while she was in the country. Her answer was: "I should say I did."
After a year she came to our private clinic. In the room were two school nurses and a young man, who were there to observe the cases under treatment. I was not sure that my dear old lady had retained her improved vision, because I had not seen her for so long a time. I placed the test card ten feet from her eyes, and she read every letter correctly, up to the fifteen line, without the aid of palming. At times she read 10/10, after resting her eyes with the aid of palming and blinking.
The test I made this day was the best, because she read a strange card which she had never seen before. Then I placed her in the sun and gave her the doctor's fine-print card, which she held six inches from her eyes. She looked at me in a funny way, and said, "Oh, I can read that easily." Then to the amazement of the others in the room, she proceeded to read the diamond type.
Some day I am afraid the little lady will get into trouble. Whenever she sees a child in the street wearing glasses, she becomes much excited. One day she stopped two women with a child on the street and found fault with them because the little girl, three years of age, was wearing glasses. "Why don't you take that child to my doctor; he can cure her without glasses!"
Those who know our dear old lady can very well understand her good intentions, but how about the mother and friend of this little girl? They must have thought at first that she was of unsound mind, but they treated her kindly and accepted the "Better Eyesight Magazine", which she offered them.
We had another case of cataract under treatment at the clinic, a man sixty-three years old. When he first came, he had to have someone lead him. After his fourth visit to the clinic, he was able to travel by himself.
When Dr. Bates examined him with the retinoscope on the first day, he could see no red reflex in either eye I gave him a test card which he held very close to his eyes, and after he had palmed for a little while and imagined that he saw the test card moving opposite to the movement of his body, he could make out the big C of the card at two inches from his eyes, but it looked very much blurred to him. Before he left the clinic that day, he was able to read several lines of the test card, and the letters cleared up, a result which, of course, gave him a great deal of encouragement. What helped him so quickly was his certainty that we could improve his sight. He did exactly as he was told. Keeping up a steady swing of his body, slow and easy, without any effort, stopped the staring. Palming, and imagining that his body was moving, were also a rest and relaxation.
After he had been coming for a month or more, he was able to read all the letters of the test card, as he held the card very close to his eyes. Three months later he was able to read the large letters of the card two feet away, and the ten-line letters of the bottom line at three inches from his eyes. Whenever he came, which was every Saturday morning, he had something encouraging to tell us. The signs in the subway, cars, and on the street grew clearer and more distinct. He was able to dodge people in a crowd. At the present time, even people with normal vision have to be careful to avoid injury both in the street and in the subway.
On his last visit he read very fine print at three inches, and saw the fifty-line letters more than a foot away. His vision improved by practicing with print even finer than diamond type. Throughout the treatments his jolly disposition proved an asset.
It is a great relief to be able to say to a clinic patient when he first comes to us: "You are welcome here for treatment, no matter where you live." Each district has a free hospital, and those who live in another district are not admitted: At the Harlem Hospital Clinic, the authorities turned away many poor souls who needed treatment for their eyes. While if was pitiful, it was necessary, because we could not take care of them all.
A friend of mine once asked me if I ever got tired of clinic work, of treating obstinate cases. No, indeed, I do not. The harder a case is to benefit, the better I like the work. I never tire of my patients, though I get tired myself.
Mothers of the clinic are restful to me. I love to treat them. To see tenderness, expressions of love, come to their faces always brings a perfect mental picture of the Madonna to my mind. When Mother Jones comes, she gives me that picture.
Her first visit was on November 1st, 1924. She brought with her a note written by her pastor, stating that as Dr. Bates had cured many of hit friends, he was sure we could do something for Mother Jones. Her age was sixty-seven and she was troubled with cataract in both eyes. Her vision had become defective about four years ago. Dr. Bates' examination with the ophthalmoscope showed a red reflex in the right eye, but none in the left.
After Dr. Bates had left the room, Mother Jones began to talk. As long as I live I shall always remember the sound of her voice. When I compared her with the Madonna, I was not trying to give the impression that Mother Jones is beautiful of face or form. She is of the ordinary motherly type. But the impression one receives while looking at her, listening to her tender voice, suggests something holy. She did not know of anyone who had been benefited by the Bates method, but her pastor had sent her, and that was recommendation enough. She is very poor, but her son and family are taking care of her. When I told her that the only way for her to be cured was to practice faithfully every day and to do exactly as she was told, she promised to do) her part. When I tested her sight with the test card, she read 10/70 with both eyes together. Her vision with the right eye was 10/70, but she could not see the card at all with the left eye at ten feet.
She was instructed to palm and to think of something pleasant, something easy to remember. I left her by herself for about ten minutes, and when I returned she had not stirred, and her eyes were still covered with the palms of her hands. I told her to keep her right eye covered, but to open her left eye and tell me what she could see. I held the test card five inches from her left eye, and at that distance she saw the 200-line letter C. She sighed with relief when she discovered that her left eye was not really blind, but was made so by strain and tension. In this short tune the benefit she received from palming proved to her that her cataract was caused by strain.
I placed her in the sun, and while her eyes were closed, I used the sun-glass on her eyelids. I could see her relax, and she smiled as she felt the warmth of the sun's rays; I led her back to her chair and told her to open her eyes and read the test card. Her vision had improved to 10/30, reading with both eyes. She was instructed to practice ten minutes many times every day, alternately palming, blinking, and flashing letters on the test card.
Mother Jones came once a week without missing a treatment, and each time her vision improved, with but two exceptions, when it remained the same as on the previous visit. On her second visit she read 10/30 after palming, and on the third treatment 10/20.
This dear mother appreciated the sunshine more than any cataract case I ever bad. On dark and rainy days, she was always despondent and nervous, but the sound of her voice never changed. Once when she failed to appear for treatment, I feared she was ill, and I worried about her. I had noticed that her clothes were none too warm for the cold days, and thought perhaps that was the reason for her absence.
While I was reflecting upon my bank account, I received a letter from a private patient who is also one of my adopted mothers. She comes from Ohio, where I have many friends. Her gratitude for the benefit she received from Dr. Bates prompted her to send a sum of money to be used in making my clinic family happy. A poor mother with a big family, dear old "Pop," who lives in a home for the blind, and Mother Jones shared in the loving thoughts of my mother from the West.
Mother Jones soon returned to thank me for the gift and to explain why she had been absent,—her son had become a father, and both the mother and baby were doing finely. After I expressed my congratulations over this great event, I produced a test card which she had not seen before, and placed it ten feet from her eyes. Some of our readers may doubt it, but I do believe that the little stranger had something to do with the improvement in the vision of her grandmother. She read 10/20 with her left eye.
Soon afterward, I was called upon to take charge of our private practice, because of the illness of Dr. Bates. Captain Price of London, who is practicing the Bates system successfully in his country, was in our office at the time and offered to help me and my assistant, Miss Mildred Shepard. I placed Mother Jones in his care. His record of her improved vision showed on February 7, 1925, right vision of the white C card, 10/20; left vision, 10/20. At her second treatment by Captain Price, her right vision was 10/15, left vision 10/15, when reading white letters on black card.
Ophthalmologists would certainly appreciate this record, if they would only study and practice the Bates system. What further proof is necessary to convince those of pessimistic minds that our method of curing people without glasses is a purely scientific one?
Mother Jones is still under treatment, but it will not be long before she will enjoy normal sight. She tells everyone how much better she sees and feels, since she has learned how to relax and relieve her eyestrain.
Another interesting patient was a man, aged forty. On his first visit I found him palming, which was an unusual thing for a stranger to do. He evidently thought that if covering the eyes with the palms of the hands was good for others, it might help him also. I stood before him and asked: "Can I help you?"
He paid no attention to me whatever, and I soon discovered that he was quite deaf; so deaf that one had to raise the voice considerably to make him hear. When at last I succeeded in making hint understand me, he asked: "Is it possible that you will be able to do anything for me?"
I answered: "I am going to try, with your help."
Then I said I wanted to know something about the history of his case, and this is what he told me:
At the age of six he fell down a flight of stairs, and struck his forehead on a newel post, severing an artery in the head. Later, when it was noted that his sight was deficient, physicians attributed the condition to this fall. During the thirty-four subsequent years he had been treated by many New York physicians, both at their offices and clinics. During that period he had been blind three times, and surgical treatment had been repeatedly necessary. As a boy he could never see a blackboard at school and could read but little. Between his twenty-first and thirty-fifth years his sight had been steadily declining, and several doctors had told him that this would continue until he became completely blind. He was now practically blind in one eye so far as useful vision was concerned. I tested his sight and found that he could count his fingers at about three feet with the right eye, and with the left he could see only the movement of his hand. Dr. Bates examined him, and found that he had an inflammatory cataract in the left eye, together with other inflammatory conditions.
I told him to palm again, and he complained that he saw all sorts of bright colors when he covered his eyes with his hands, and that these disturbed him very much. I directed him to remove his hands from his eyes and look at the large letter C on the test card, which I held a foot away from him. After he had tried a few times his vision improved, and he was able to remember the letter with his eyes closed; then the bright colors faded away, and after palming for fifteen minutes his vision improved from 1/200 to 1/50 in the right eye, while with the left he became able to count my fingers at three feet. The next clinic day he read 3/30 with the right eye and 1/10 with the left, while at the end of two weeks the vision of the right eye was 3/10 and the left 3/70. At the same time his general health was so much better that he asked me if I had time to let him tell me about it. I replied that I should be very glad to hear the story.
"For many years," he related, "I have suffered from insomnia, and in recent months it has been nothing unusual for me to remain awake the entire night. Frequently I stayed up all night, realizing the futility of trying to induce sleep. A short time ago this happened twice in a single week. When I did sleep, my slumber was very light and disturbed by the wildest imaginable dreams—fires, murders, hair-breadth escapes. As a result of the insomnia and eyestrain I frequently had splitting headaches, sometimes every day, and sometimes even twice a day. From these I could secure relief only by the use of what I knew to be harmful medicines. Since I came to you I have been sleeping very much better, the dreams have become less disturbing, and the headaches have practically ceased."
Hearing this, I was encouraged to try to do even more for him, so I handed him a test card, and asked him to look at a small letter, close his eyes and remember it, and then imagine it blacker and clearer than he saw it, He was able to do this, and the constant twitching of his eyelids ceased. For a moment I forgot that he was deaf and said in an even voice:
"How do your eyes feel now?"
He heard me, and answered:
"They feel so rested just now I do not feel that I have eyes at all, but am seeing without them."
He came three days every week for three months, and then as he improved, he came less frequently. When I last saw him he was able, with his left eye, to read 3/10 at times, and with his right 5/10, while his hearing had improved so much that I was able to talk without raising my voice much above my ordinary conversational tone. At the same time he had been relieved of head noises, including a drumming in the ears, which, he said, had often continued from three to ten days. When he first came he could not go about alone, and walked like an intoxicated person. In the beginning when he left the clinic, I noticed that he bumped against the benches, and he told me that the condition had been attributed by physicians whom he had consulted to incipient locomotor ataxia. After his first visit, however, he never bumped into the furniture, and before he left us hit walk was almost normal.
An old mammy, who remembered the Civil War very well, but did not remember when she was born, had cataracts in both eyes. Her condition was so bad in the beginning that she could not see anything on the test card beyond three feet with either eye. When she was told to palm, she looked around the room, observing several patients who were palming, and then remarked:
"Good Lor', ma'am, dis here room looks like a prayer meetin', and beleeb me, Ah's ready to join in, too."
Her vision improved at the first visit to 10/200, and in flashes she read 10/100. This amused as well as pleased her, and she would have it that palming, alone, did not improve her vision. She was sure I had done something mysterious to her, while she had her eyes closed, which caused this wonderful miracle. No amount of explaining to her would make her understand that eyestrain, which caused her cataract, was lessened by palming. Every clinic day she was there without fail, and her vision improved to 10/30. She had been coming to us for several months.
She had the saddest-looking eyes, and even when she smiled, she looked sad. I found out after we became acquainted, that she had a reason for her sadness. The story she told me was almost unbelievable, but I shall repeat just what she said:
"You know, ma'am, a long time ago Ah had a master, and he was good and kind. Den came a new master, and he was bad to de help. Dey was twenty ob us in help, and we did work on de plantation. After a while Ah was sick, and was becomin' weary, 'cause a li'l stranger was on de way. De sun was hot in de fields, ma'am, an' mah back was achin' powerful bad. De old master would sure hab sent me to bed, but de new one he just tells me to get a move on. One day Ah felt so bad an' hungry dat Ah falls down on mah knees. Ah jes' couldn't get up. De master beat me wid a lash right before de oder niggers to teach dem a lesson, and said Ah was jes' lazy. When mah little boy was born, he did hab de stripes ob de lash on his back de same as was on mah own back. One night Ah ran away wid mah baby, an' this was jes' before de niggers was freed bah Lincoln."
I wondered if my mammy had been told the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin, or if her story were partly true. She looked very old, and I judged, as did Dr. Bates, that she was about eighty years of age. It was remarkable what a good memory she had for some things. I asked her several questions on different days to confuse or to test her, but she was always correct in her answers.
She continued with the treatments until she became able to thread her needle without glasses, and then she stopped coming.
An old-fashioned mammy negress, aged seventy-two, was being treated for cataract in both her eyes. An operation was advised, but she was fully convinced that we could help her so that she would not need an operation. At first she could just make out the severity line of the card with each eye at ten feet. The first treatment improved her vision to 10/40. She was directed to do a great deal of palming and swinging every day, and a week later she read 10/20.
Incidentally, I can prove that eyestrain caused her cataract, for one day she was sufficiently relaxed to read some of the letters on the bottom line of the card, 10/10 temporarily. It was a joy to talk to her, because she was clean and neatly dressed. Her manner was apologetic, and she was grateful for the benefit she received. Another day I noticed that her eyes were swollen from weeping. She was eager to please me, and started to read the card, without success. She turned towards me and said: "Ma'am, I cannot read. The card is all blurred, and I cannot see one letter clearly." Then she began to cry softly, and told me her trouble.
"Many nights I have not slept," she said, "because my son was sent to prison. He is not bad, but he got into mischief."
She loved her boy very much, so she did not tell me the nature of the trouble. But oh, how she strained and suffered for him! I wish I could have told him all about it; I think he would have been sorry. While she palmed I comforted her and reminded her that everything might be much worse. She was under a tension all the while she palmed, but after a while she became more calm and I saw her relax. As she again removed her hands from her eyes to read the card, she exclaimed with relief:
"My, how the letters clear up! What did you do to me? I feel so much better now."
I told her that she did it all herself. At each visit she showed a little more improvement, until she soon became able to read and sew, and to read very fine type at six inches, in a poor light, as well as in a bright light. In less than one year the opacities of the lens disappeared.
For a year I have been treating a woman, aged sixty-eight, who has cataract in both eyes. In the beginning, I saw her about once a week, then later, I treated her less frequently because I had so little time. She lives with her sister and family in the country and every one who knows her, calls her Aunt Mary. She has all the reason in the world to be depressed or unhappy, because, with the exception of just a few years, she has been a cripple all of her life. Yet Aunt Mary greets you with a smile and makes you understand that she is happy.
A few years ago, her sight began to trouble her, and she was examined by an eye specialist. He said that cataract was beginning to form in each eye, and that nothing could be done until they became ripe, when she was to be taken to the hospital for an operation. Then I was consulted by her family and asked to call at her home and examine her eyes. With the retinoscope, I saw a clear, red reflex in the right eye, but none in the left. It was evident that her trouble was caused by strain, and her condition was becoming worse because she worried about the outcome.
We placed her in a comfortable chair in the garden where the sun was shining, and fastened a white test card on the trunk of a tree. As she looked at the card, she began to squint, because the bright light bothered her. Teaching her to blink often, helped her to look at the card with less discomfort. She could read 10/200 with the right eye and 1/200 with the left, which means that at ten feet the only letter she could see with the right eye was the large letter C on the top of the card, and with the left eye, she could not see it further than one foot. With some difficulty, Aunt Mary was able to raise one of her arms, so that she could cover her eyes with her palm. She had a good imagination, so while her eyes were covered, we talked about various kinds of flowers she had seen. We also talked of white clouds and a blue sky. As I mentioned one object after another, her mind did not dwell on one thing very long. I spent about an hour with her the first day, and her vision in that time improved to 10/40 with the right eye and 10/200 with the left. Improving her imagination of things she had seen, with eyes closed as well as with them open, was the only method I used that day.
There was quite an improvement in her eyes when I saw her again. The vision of her right eye improved to 10/30 and 10/70 in the left. It was impossible for her to stand and swing, so I placed myself before her in an arm chair, moved my body and head to the right, then to the left with a slow movement, and asked her to do the same. While we were doing this, I could not understand why she did not see nor imagine things about her moving opposite to the direction in which her head and eyes were moving. Then I noticed that she was staring while trying to follow my directions, even though she was blinking. It did not take her very long to learn how to shift her eyes, and after that she made steady progress.
Dr. Bates became interested in Aunt Mary's case and offered to call with me the next time I treated her. He examined her eyes with his ophthalmoscope and said there was not enough opacity of either lens to lower the vision. She was very much encouraged when Dr. Bates told her that her cataract had improved. He also remarked about her cheery disposition, and how her faithfulness in keeping up her daily treatment would help greatly in the cure of her eyes.
There is an enclosed porch where she practices on rainy days, or when it becomes too cold to sit in the garden. Her loving family do all they possibly can to make her comfortable, so there is every chance that she will be cured of her eye trouble.
Aunt Mary did not like to practice with the white C card because the white background bothered her and made her strain. She likes to practice with the white letter card on a black background, so we use the black card mostly during the treatment. In her sunny room hangs a picture which is beautifully colored, but she could not see it clearly. She explained that it seemed to be always in a mist. I gave her fine print to practice with, and she has become able to read it at six inches from her eyes in a fairly good light.
Her confidence in me makes me all the more anxious to cure her. In the last few months, she has realized the fact that no operation for the removal of cataract will ever be necessary, if she continues to practice. She surprised me one day by reading 10/20 with both eyes, and after sun treatment she read 10/15. Surely, at this time, if her cataracts were as bad as they were in the beginning, when I first saw her, her vision would not have improved, neither would she have responded to the sun treatment. Recently, I examined her again with the retinoscope, and I saw a red reflex in the left eye, as well as in the right.
A neighbor, who is twenty years younger than Aunt Mary, and has presbyopia or old age sight, was surprised to find out that Aunt Mary had better sight than she had. The fact that her vision was better than a woman so much younger made her anxious to practice more. The last time I visited Aunt Mary, she read the bottom line of the test card at ten feet, or 10/10, with her right eye and 10/20 with the left. She reads the fine print now at all times, also the newspaper and her Bible without any trouble. When she strains to see at the distance, things seem to blur before her eyes, but when she palms and sways her body, as she sits in her chair, the mist clears away, and she sees better.
When t first became acquainted with her, I noticed how difficult it was for her to move about with her crutches. To get up from her chair was an effort. Not so long ago, I offered to help her change her position, but she managed very nicely herself and got up with the aid of her crutches without any effort at all. I believe the constant practice of the body swing has not only improved the condition of her eyes, but also her general condition.
The following report of the relief of congenital blindness Involves not only cataract but disease of the retina with no perception of light. According to the accepted teachings of ophthalmology, there would have been no relief for the child, and he would have been condemned to a life of blindness, a burden to himself, his family, and the state.
It was during the year of 1920 that Jocky, aged three, became my patient. A man and a woman on the last lap of life's journey accompanied him, and I learned later they were his grandparents. His father and mother had died of influenza soon after he was born.
After the doctor had examined the boy's eyes, he asked me to watch carefully to see if the little fellow would follow his hand, as he passed it from side to side close to his eyes. Poor Jocky paid no attention whatever to the proceedings, for he did not see the hand at all. He could see nothing. He was blind, and had been so from birth. Dr. Bates could not perceive a red reflex in either eye with the ophthalmoscope. Breathlessly the grandmother exclaimed:
"Isn't there any hope at all, Doctor, please? Oh, say there 1st" Poor woman! There seemed indeed little room for hope. The pupils of the child's eyes were filled with a white mass plainly visible to the naked eye. Dr. Bates said that before birth an inflammation of the iris and the interior coats of the eyeball must have occurred. This had not only caused the formation of the cataract, but destroyed the sensitiveness of the retina, so that the removal of the cataracts would have done no good. The Doctor did not promise anything—he never does. He always studies each case that comes to him and then directs me what to do. He explained to the grandparents how necessary it was for Jocky to rest his eyes. Then I showed the grandmother how he could do this.
It was not easy for Jocky to rest. He was never still. Every nerve in his body seemed to be straining. But with infinite patience his grandmother taught him to palm and encouraged him to make a game of it.
"Where is Jocky now?" she would ask.
Then he would cover his closed eyes with his chubby hands, shut out all light, and say: "Jocky gone away."
When his grandmother observed that the little fellow was really beginning to see things placed before him, she worked unceasingly with him every day.
Jocky enjoyed playing the game of palming, and the two would keep it up for hours. Even by himself, when he became tired of his other games he would cover his closed eyes with the palms of his hands and journey elsewhere in his imagination. When he removed his hands from his eyes, he could always see better, and this naturally encouraged him to continue the game. He also enjoyed joining hands with his grandmother, or grandfather, and swinging. The practice helped his sight very much. He did not know his letters at first, but his grandmother soon taught him, with the help of the test card.
After a few months of this treatment Jocky had made the most astonishing progress. The area occupied by the cataracts grew smaller and smaller, until one pupil was half clear and the other partially so. Jockey began to go out by himself and to play with other children. At the clinic, after he had palmed awhile, his grandmother would ask him to go and find the good nurse who had been so kind to him when he first came, and he would go straight to her. Then she would ask him to find Dr. Bates and he would go straight to him. This always thrilled the nurses and doctors who were watching. He would also go to a little girl-patient with cross eyes, and the two had great fun swinging together.
Some time later a clinic attendant informed the grandparents that Jocky could not come to the clinic any more, because he did not live in the district of the Harlem Hospital. Our little Jocky, however, was not forsaken on that account. He became a steady visitor to the doctor's office, where he was always made welcome.
No patient who ever attended the clinic was more missed than Jocky when his visits ceased. As he lived a distance away he did not come three days a week, like the other children, but when he was present he was a ray of sunshine. His cunning ways endeared him to everybody, while his wonderful progress inspired confidence in the treatment and encouraged young and old to practice more industriously. He understood what we were trying to do for him, and tried to help us all he could. Whenever he saw Dr. Bates coming towards him, he would put his hands over his closed eyes, and say, over and over:
"Jocky gone away, Doctor. See! Jocky gone away."
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