TO BE OR NOT TO BE
IN THIS chapter I shall undertake, in a simple and deliberate manner, to consider an abstract question. The question is whether an endeavor should be made to recuperate the faltering eye and use it, or whether the eye itself should continue to be neglected, more and more each succeeding generation, and be denied the help which is being given to every other part and function of the body. I ask the reader to lay aside all personal feeling, and follow, without any prejudice or any mental reservation, the lines of thought presented.
In the standard textbooks we are told that sight is a psychic function. In other words, it is in the brain that we actually see, lust as it is in the brain that we feel, and hear, and taste and smell. Marvelous as it is in itself, the eye is only an end organ, a receptor. It receives and transmits a physical force to a nerve which carries that force like an electric current up to a special receiving center in the brain.
If we are to have some practical understanding of the issues which are involved in this controversy, it is necessary that we have some knowledge of certain facts, which are being ignored entirely, and are realized by very few of those whose vital interests are at stake. We will need to learn something of the known mechanism of the human eye. Even a normal eye varies constantly in its efficiency, and an abnormal eye varies considerably. We must remember that radical changes take place in its conduct, even extreme discrepancies in an abnormal eye, when no least change is found in the tissue of the eye itself.
In the past few decades the record of the work of the medical profession has been the story of a new science and art, entirely different from the old methods of treatment. In the centuries of the past, medicine developed like every other science. Now and again a genius arose out of the ranks that moved slowly along-when they did not remain stationary for a lifetime. These men of vision generally battled with the rest of the army while they lived, because the minds of their colleagues continued to function with the fixed habits which were their mental life. That was the experience of Harvey when he insisted that the blood vessels contained blood, and not air. When Lister offered his theory that infected wounds were caused by bacteria, not even the proof he offered, made any impression on the fixed beliefs of the surgeons with whom he was working. Notwithstanding the fact that their own explanations were negative and empty, they refused to consider his. He cut the infections in his own surgical wards from seventy to seven; but for a long time the only recognition he received was ridicule. Pasteur was not even a doctor of medicine, and so the discoveries he made, instead of being received with reverence, were met with bitter, vicious persecution.
But the practice of medicine is guided now by different principles and different men. New discoveries are frequent, and methods are improving constantly. There are many evidences of this. 'Me legions of death, that moved silently and without any opposition for so long, are now seen and met and conquered. The plagues of the past are guarded against successfully. Cancer killed many in every thousand; its victims are daily numbering less and less. Tuberculosis was a universal scourge, but the ninety per cent of infections in childhood are now a thing of the past. Malaria and typhoid fever now are generally not cured, they are prevented. The early deaths of infants are provided against and increasingly they do not occur. The cause of all these changes can be explained by what the doctors call preventive medicine.
The causes of tuberculosis were searched for and found. Then a defense was organized. The children were protected, and their natural defenses were strengthened. The enemy in cancer is still unseen, but so much has been discovered about his plan of attack, that he is met with a new resistance, and the number of his victories grows smaller by degrees and beautifully less. The mosquitoes of malaria, which were caught in their acts, are killed now in advance of danger. The drainage which carried the typhoid poisoner into the water and into the milk, is prevented now from polluting the liquids that used to carry death. In short, instead of only trying to cure the body which has been attacked, the doctor begins now by meeting the enemy as he comes on. The doctor has learned that the best defensive is an offensive. That is true of the whole field of medicine, except in the care of the precious sense of sight. No effort is being made to prevent the deterioration of the human eye. No effort is being made to find out why it is failing. No effort is being made to cure it. The situation today is just where it was twenty years ago when Dr. Sidler-Huguenin, an acknowledged international authority in this field, wrote that: "Glasses and all methods now at our command are of but little avail in preventing either the progress of the error of refraction, or the development of the very serious complications with which it is often associated."
What is the answer to the conclusion of Dr. Sidler-Huguenin? Is there no answer? The answer is here. The answer has been here. The answer is scientific. The answer was given by a physician who was a genius ranking with the leaders in other fields of medicine. The answer was proved during many years. The answer can be proved now by any who care to repeat the scientific investigation of Dr. Bates, or to test the results by using his method in cases of faltering eyesight. Notwithstanding all these truths, the human eye today seems to be treated like a commodity for barter and sale.
Since artificial lenses are ground to correct an exact degree of refractive error, it is necessary for the eye to produce constantly that exact degree of error in order to see clearly with the glass lenses in front of the eye. But no degree of refractive error in an eye is constantly present. The abnormal conduct of the eye is a fault which varies in degree. Many who wear glasses report that they find more or less difficulty with them, even after they "get used to them." Those who find their eyes adjusted for a period, are obliged to change the lenses because they have gradually become a hindrance in stead of a help. It has been demonstrated by many who wear glasses that if they make a test by laying their spectacles aside for an hour, or a longer period, their sight improves, and they can see better without the glasses an hour after removing them than they see when they first take them off.
It is true that a great many who are wearing glasses would not be interested in trying to get along without them. As long as there is either difficulty or discomfort without them, and there is relief while wearing them, their answer will be "spectacles"—and that is their own affair. There are others who would like to be freed from dependence upon spectacles, but would not care to take the trouble, or are afraid the effort would end in failure.
In this short chapter we are not concerned with those. But many of them would still be interested in the question under consideration. They would be glad to know that thousands who are not wearing glasses yet, but are going to wear them, need not put them on. They would be interested, if they could realize it, to know that it is more possible to be saved from weak and unhappy eyes than it is to be saved from other damaging weaknesses which are now anticipated and prevented. The finest, spiritual interest they can have in this vital problem is an enthusiastic desire for the correction of a serious mistake, and the elimination of a menace which involves millions of humans, and endangers the welfare of this country.
"To Be or Not To Be", in this chapter, means just what Shakespeare, not Hamlet, said it always means:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them?
The slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune, in this discussion, are artificial lenses—the most domineering and dominating impediments to personal freedom that this particular land of the free is being subjected to in this generation.
Whatever we automatically decide to do about our own lenses, and whatever indifference we may feel about what the remainder of the adults are doing, have we not, every one of us, a battling interest in the sea of troubles that is being launched upon the children, in this deluge of spectacles with which they are being overwhelmed? Do we not want to know whether or not it is possible to give them back their own eyes, free and strong and independent? If it is possible, and that is being proved every day, do we not want to know why the eyes of the children are being denied what every other faculty and function of their minds and bodies are being given—the care and education which is their right?