Posts Tagged ‘eyesight’


The Ouroboros

With a majority of people in Lancashire County supportive of a severe “circuit breaker” shutdown to protect us against this second wave of Covid, and a majority of our local members of parliament opposing it, we are left wondering at their strategy, also – it has to be said – the common sense of those still cramming the boozers. But this piece has nothing to do with Covid, and only peripherally to do with politics. What it has to do with mainly, is the National Health Service and the determination of its professionals to keep going when everything is stacked against them. And it has to do with my work in progress, “Winter on the Hill”.

We’re nearing the end of that story now, perhaps both stories, and the protagonist, Rick, is looking for his punch-line. Where did he begin? What has he learned, and how has he changed? As a Lefty activist, he struggled with the scale of the rout in last year’s election (was it really only last year?), that is until he met Big Al and rediscovered the transcendent perspective attainable only from walking up a hill, and making love to a lusty woman. Suddenly he’s not political any more. He’s shed it like and old skin.

There, amid the mists and the snows and the winds, in the company of a crusty old walking group, he’s buried his anger, geared up and chilled out. Thereafter, he has followed the remarkable shenanigans of the UK response to the pandemic with bemusement. He has shrugged, tied on his boots and gone up another hill. He hasn’t once said “I told you so” or “you can’t run a country on lies and bluster” or “doesn’t surprise me in the least.” Rick has other things on his mind – and not just Big Al. He has become, dare I say,… philosophical? I’m not saying he doesn’t care any more, just that he’s not angry.

The moral I’m groping for I suppose, through Rick, is there’s a season for the political Left, but this isn’t it. That boat has definitely sailed. This is winter on the hill and there’s not a lot they can do about it. Anyone seriously of the left, like Rick, isn’t going to come anywhere near influencing policy for a very long time, so he might as well assume the transcendent perspective, enjoy his hills, to say nothing of the ample pleasures of Big Al, and stay the hell out of it.

Except, as I was coming to this conclusion on Monday night, tapping towards it on the keyboard, I experienced a firework display. It wasn’t a real one – more a display of lights in my eyes that would have been impressive had it not been so worrying, and no it was nothing to do with a revelation regarding the direction of the story. The lights went on all evening, and in the morning I woke to a fat black spot in my vision. Worst case scenario, a detached retina.

So I went to my local A+E department at Chorley in state of panic and dejection. But I’d forgotten how, after a long and plucky struggle, Chorley lost its A+E department earlier this year. I remembered too late those protesters stood out in all weathers with their “Save our A+E” and “honk if you agree” signs. And even though I’d honked in enthusiastic support every morning on my way to work the trust in charge shut it anyway. Clearly it takes more than honking horns to save our NHS. It takes people like Rick.

I was familiar with Chorley A+E, and grateful when on a number of occasions it had variously glued the heads and reinserted the teeth of my children. And now here I am in need of expert advice myself, and it’s,.. well,… not there any more. It’s been replaced by an urgent care centre where you can walk in, and they’ll sort out what they can, but they’re short on specialized departments they can wheel you off to – like an eye clinic for example. For that you have to drive another forty minutes in heavy traffic to the other side of Preston.

So, I felt like a fool, but the staff at Chorley were lovely, welcomed me into their bosom. The doctor who saw me was a pleasant softly spoken guy, and after telling me there wasn’t much they could do, he contacted the Preston eye clinic, who rang me straight back and told me to get down to my local Specsavers pronto for an examination. Specsavers?

So, then I’m in Specsavers, and the girl’s dilating my pupil and peering inside, and after a lot of reassurances she gives it a name – Posterior Vitrious Detatchment. This is common in speccy-four-eyes like me – especially ageing ones – though she was far too nice to say “ageing”. Downside, yes, I’ve got a new and quite prominent and permanent floater in my eye to make friends with, but the upside is it’s not a detached retina, which would have been bad. Really, really bad.

These reassurances come to me thanks to a highly trained and professional expertise, which struggled a bit with cutbacks but still formed a robust network of competent and respectful support, all of which cost me absolutely nothing – well except for a small contribution from my earnings every month, so every single one of us in the UK can benefit from that same scientifically based, high standard of medical care – albeit somewhat stretched right now. Yes, Specsavers is a private company, but the NHS footed the bill.

In America, politicians of the right denigrate this kind of thing. They call it “Socialized Medicine”, Socialized being a word not that far removed from “Socialism” which, to them, is as near as makes no difference to actual – you know – whisper the word: “Communism”, which places you in the Gulag. So don’t mention socialized medicine, right? but make sure you have your credit card on you at all times in case you’re caught up in a medical emergency and need some competent help.

So, my message to Rick now, up there on his hill, still trying to see above the fray and refusing to swear at the TV news any more, is I’m no longer of a mind to let him have his peace and quiet. Instead, I want to tell him look mate, I understand you had a kicking last year, and you’ve lost your mojo, but we need you back. Chorley wants its A+E. But I’ve a feeling the great British public, ever ready to vote against their interests, won’t even notice the NHS has gone until the ambulance man turns up with a credit card reader and tells you, while you’re lying there with your leg hanging off, to swipe before he’ll allow you on board. And by then it’s too late.

I don’t remember the names of all those who helped me out this week, but I thank every one of you. As for the future of our NHS, well, we can all see where it’s going and it’s not looking good, but I tell you what,… I’ll hike up there into the mists and have a word with Rick, see what he can do. But I warn you, he’s not really in the mood right now.

Graeme out.

[Header Pic? Sorry, you’ll have to read the story. But don’t worry,  just like the NHS, it won’t cost you anything.]

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

William H Bates (1860-1931) was an Ophthalmologist with an unconventional view on the workings of the eye. He was also unique among his colleagues in advocating a method of vision-training he claimed would cure problems with sight that are normally corrected by spectacles. However, Wikipediea, as ever a bastion of orthodoxy, dismisses the method in its opening paragraph as “ineffective”, as do many others who take the established scientific view.

A more positive advocate was the writer and visionary Aldous Huxley. Huxley was born with very poor sight and wrote about his experience of the Bates method in his book, “The Art of Seeing” (1942). In it he explained that while his vision remained far from normal throughout his life, Bates’ training helped him to progress from being functionally blind, to being able to manage reasonably well and for a time the Bates Method was all the rage.

So, is it any good or not?

Well, in 1950, Huxley got up to read an address at a Hollywood banquet. The lighting was poor, and he struggled to read his script. In front of many witnesses, he had to resort to a magnifying glass to make out the words. Critics of the Bates method leaped upon this as evidence he’d memorised his script, the implication being he couldn’t really see it and had only been pretending to read it, therefore all Bates method teachers were charlatans, and that Huxley had misrepresented claims of his improved vision. Orthodox ophthalmologists breathed a sigh of relief and went back to business as usual, selling spectacles.

Curiously though there are still plenty of Bates teachers around, and they are not short of positive testimonials. It’s possible that in some cases, having spent a fortune on such a method you’re more likely to praise it for even small gains because you look like less of an idiot that way. But surely not everyone falls into this category, and I wonder if there’s not more to it, that, as with all things, the story is more complex than the shrill headlines and the naysayers allow. Huxley’s case is particularly interesting. As a public intellectual, he had a lot at stake, and it seems unlikely to me he would risk his reputation on such a blatant, elaborate and pointless deception.

So what about my own experience? Well, when my own eyesight began to drift off into myopia in my early teens, I took to practicing the Bates method with enthusiasm. This involved various exercises, all of which, by the way, can be nowadays be found for free online. They include switching focus from near to far distance (tromboning), sitting with your palms over your eyes (palming) and letting the sunlight play upon your closed lids (sunning). I hasten to add none of this had any effect on my vision whatsoever. Indeed my eyesight continued to deteriorate until my middle twenties when, somewhat ironically, I merely accepted the need for spectacles, and things stabilised. So, not much of a testimonial then, except,…

I’ve not troubled myself with the Bates method again until recently. I’m in late middle age now, and for the past few years, although I’m 20-20 with my specs on, I felt that at night, I was becoming less able to discern details in dark shadow. I could no longer see the fainter stars, and had become particularly sensitive to oncoming car headlights, which made night-driving stressful. I don’t know why I picked up on Bates again but, out of interest, I began a regime of alternately sunning, and then palming my eyes – just twenty minutes a day.  The effect on my night vision was immediate and very noticeable, vastly improving what I’d call the dynamic range, and therefore my perception of detail in low light, the night sky once more replete with countless stars, and those pesky ultra-bright headlight beams no longer as much of a nuance.

As for my actual vision, my prescription is unchanged, so the spectacles remain indispensable, but at my age I lack the necessary vanity to wish them gone anyway. On the upside though the eyes are generally healthy and, thanks to Bates and his much maligned method, I no longer worry about commuting in the dark over the coming winter months. Okay, so perhaps the Bates method’s not all it’s cracked up to be, but neither should we dismiss it entirely, because a lot of people have positive things to say about it.

And I’m one of them.

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