The Bates Method is My Life Saver!
by Betty Wakeham
I have worn glasses nearly all my 78 years. My vision had never been an issue until I was diagnosed with macular degeneration last Christmas. Cataracts had already been detected by 1993 but I was not worried about them.
It all began with an eye examination at my new school at the age of ten. To my surprise, I was prescribed glasses for short sight. I was not even aware that they were needed but I did not mind wearing them. My sister was really jealous of my new look! I soon got used to spectacles and wore them for everything, including hockey and tennis.
However, within three or four years, I was given a stronger prescription. My father was worried and decided to take me to an eye specialist, but no particular action was taken. When I reached my early twenties, during the war, I was working as a secretary at the Admiralty Compass Observatory in Slough. Here I made friends with another girl who was myopic. It was just at the time when Aldous Huxley’s "Art of Seeing" was published. We enjoyed the sunning and palming described in the book, but we were very young and did not bother to keep it up, even though we felt we could see better.
The next eye test was well after the war, in 1949. By then I had developed astigmatism, but that was all. My eyesight remained stable until 1993. I returned to my opticians, the same practice as in 1949, and was told that cataracts had developed in both eyes. They advised me not to worry. Two years later, I decided I needed reading glasses as well. It was an expensive business because by now my distance glasses were being cosmetically reduced to make my eyes look less bulbous.
By December 1998, I found I could not see the TV clearly. It was all fuzzy. I was referred to the Prince Charles Eye Unit at King Edward VII Hospital, Windsor. Although the ophthalmic surgeon informed me I had macular degeneration in both eyes, he said it was not serious.
But within a short period, I could no longer watch indoor tennis or snooker on TV. All the lines of the tennis court and net and snooker table were blurry and continually waving about. Later I discovered this was a characteristic of macular degeneration.
Now I was really getting worried. Then by chance I heard the Radio 4 programme "You and Yours" about the Bates Method. I immediately got hold of the BBC, wrote to Shoreham-by-Sea for a list of teachers and contacted Daryl Walker.
I did not know what to expect but thought nothing could be worse than going blind. I began palming three times daily and spent the entire summer enjoying the sunshine. If it was rainy or overcast, I used to bathe my closed eyelids under a hundred watt desk lamp, turning my head slowly from side to side to a count of fifty. Then with one eye covered with my palm, I splayed out the fingers of my other hand to create a strobe-like effect over the other closed eye. The procedure was then repeated to a count of twenty with the other eye. This really seemed to relax me. I also found that alternate short bursts of sunning and palming have enabled my pupils to contract and dilate a little more easily. I also enjoyed swaying in front of the window overlooking the garden.
Daryl has also taught me to focus on my index finger while being aware of my outstretched arm moving in an arc in front of me. I just enjoy the movement rather than thinking about it.
On my teacher’s recommendation, I went to Owen Leigh in Alton, optometrists who are apparently sympathetic to Bates. But I was disappointed when I was advised not only to buy another pair of expensive reading glasses but to wear them all the time.
From then on, I decided to take Bates seriously. No matter how much of a challenge it might be, I was just going to get on with it. In any case, both sets of glasses were uncomfortable to wear since they emphasised the fault at the centre of my eyes.
Gradually I have managed to leave my reading spectacles off more and more. I now borrow large print library books and can make out the words in bright light, especially if the sun is behind me. I do find tracing round letters rather troublesome because they will keep jumping about. To make reading easier, I cover up my right eye with my right palm and allow the weaker left eye to work. With Daryl’s encouragement, I am making steady progress.
Last month I was overjoyed when a different surgeon at the King Edward VII Hospital told me the cataract in the right eye had disappeared and the left one had stabilised. He did not seem to think this was miraculous or unusual and did not comment on my macular degeneration.
However, I feel enormously encouraged by what I am doing. All my relations are keen for me to improve, especially my niece. I have found the Bates Method to be very interesting and inspiring and would recommend it to anyone. It has given me a real purpose in life!