We were sitting at the cafeteria table in the Ophthalmology building at the university. The four of us had gone through the first 3 years of Science and Biology together, and we had all graduated. Now we were taking our 4th year, in preparation for our 3 years of pre med. We had just left a lecture by a noted pediatric ophthalmologist, Dr. Bruce Carter. During this lecture my colleagues and I had raised what we though were some interesting points, however the learned doctor had shot us down completely.
“Well, that was a complete waste of our time. Do any of you believe what the good doctor was saying?” Don asked.
“He didn’t even open our thoughts for discussion, he just told us we didn’t know what we were talking about, and if we wanted to be Doctors of Ophthalmology we had better forget that we ever read anything by that quack Bates.” Ronnie added.
“But he didn’t offer any proof that Bates was completely wrong, nor did he even seem willing to enter into a discussion about any form of vision training. His words simply were that it doesn’t work, so there is no sense our wasting our time on any of this.” Peter said.
“Well, I happen to think he has such a closed mind about this that he will never for one second entertain a thought that it is possible to induce myopia by placing a stronger minus lens in front of a patient’s eyes. Nor would he even try to accept that some forms of vision training might reduce, or even eliminate myopia in developing children. Maybe it is true what others have said about the optical profession: Their doors, and their minds are closed to any thought that will not put patients in glasses. Of course, this is definitely all about the mighty buck. There is tons of money to be made in the optical field. Heck, that’s why the four of us are here.” I responded.
“Well, how could we prove they are wrong?” Peter asked.
“I suppose we could take your girlfriend Nanette, and through vision training we could reduce her dependency on her thick glasses.” Don said.
“Keep your hands off Nan. I would rather have her prescription attain a higher number than to have her –10D drop by 5D!” Peter stated emphatically.
“Well, I suppose we could increase Nan’s prescription by a few diopters, but how could we prove that this wasn’t just natural progression. It would be easier to prove that we lowered it.” I said.
“Well, find some other guy’s girlfriend to work on guys. You know darned well I have this thing about girls who wear glasses. That is the whole reason I got into this field.” Pete retorted.
“All right Pete, calm down. But, I do have an idea here. Barry has often told us that he has the same attraction for girls who wear glasses as you do Pete. How be we take Joyce, and give her a small minus prescription to see if she will adapt. Then if she becomes myopic at all, we can do the vision training thing, to see if we can get her back to 20/20.” Don said.
“Sorry Don, I can go along with making Joyce myopic all right. You all know I would love her to need some sort of correction, but if she became myopic I would fight harder than Pete to have her left this way. I don’t know what I was thinking when I fell in love with a girl who has 20/20 vision. And, what is worse, her parents both have excellent eyesight so there isn’t even a slim chance that Joyce will become myopic. Heck, I’m just like Pete, I love nearsighted girls.” I replied.
“Well, how about if I select a girl from the clinic to be our guinea pig for the vision training part?” Ronnie asked.
“Have you anyone in mind?” Don and I asked in unison.
“Well, there is a girl named Cheryl who has a –6D prescription. She is 19, and she only started wearing glasses when she was 15. She has progressed quite rapidly to her present level of myopia, and I have noticed her squinting again already, so she might be a good candidate.” Ronnie said.
“Well, what about the other part of the equation. How can we prove that we can make someone myopic?” Pete asked.
“Either they would have to be completely informed, and in agreement with our study, or we would have to select someone like Joyce, who has a family history of perfect eyesight, and somehow do this to them without their knowledge.” Don stated.
“Why not use Joyce?” I asked. “You know how she always wears sunglasses, even indoors. I sometimes think that she would wear her sunglasses to bed. What if I take her sunglasses, and have a really low minus lens put into them. Then after about 3 or 4 months we could increase it from maybe –0.25 up to a –0.50D lens. I bet after a year of wearing correction we would likely find that Joyce is now a very low myope, and then once she started wearing glasses, we could bump her prescription slightly at least once a year.”
“Well, that is a possibility Barry. But, we also want to see if we can do this with small children. How would you feel if you were an eye doctor, and you were bumping your own daughter’s prescriptions? How would you feel about giving them a prescription to start off with that they didn’t need? Would you be able to go through with creating high myopes in your own children?” Pete asked.
“Lets put it this way Pete. If you and Nan get married, would you give your own children a prescription if they didn’t require it? Now, answer this honestly, knowing full well that with Nanette’s background, with her mom wearing a strong prescription, and passing it on to Nan, that any children you two have will likely require glasses anyway.” I asked.
“I think I could do that.” Pete replied.
With that conversation, over 25 years ago, a plan was put in motion. I managed to sneak my girlfriend Joyce’s spare sunglasses away from her without her knowledge. Once I had the –0.25D lenses placed in these sunglasses, I found an opportunity to take her good ones and do exactly the same thing with them. I wanted to move Joyce up to the next level within 3 months, but Pete, and Don restrained me. Finally, after 4 months had passed by I slipped the new –0.50D lenses into both pairs of Joyce’s sunglasses. Joyce had not noticed the initial minor prescription, nor did she notice the difference with the –0.50D lenses. It was a painstaking wait. After another 6 months there still appeared to be no change. Then after 9 months had passed, I noticed what appeared to be a little squint when Joyce looked at things in the distance. Finally, after almost a year, if she took her sunglasses off, she could no longer read the menu board in a fast food restaurant.
“Why is it that I can see the prices clearly with my sunglasses on, but when I take them off everything is a little fuzzy?” Joyce asked one day.
“I don’t really know. Is it the same with both pairs?” I asked.
“Exactly the same.” Joyce said.
“I bet that you might be getting a little nearsighted, but the dark glasses decrease your pupil size, and compensate for this.” I answered, thinking quickly.
This sounded logical to her, and she didn’t say anything else for a while. She then asked if I thought she should have her eyes checked, and of course I told her I would be glad to do it free of charge at the clinic. So, Joyce came in for an eye exam. When she left, she had a pair of glasses with a prescription of –1.25D in each eye, a full –1.00D over what she really needed. These glasses were gold frame aviator glasses, with the new type of lenses that got dark in sunlight, and became clear in the dark. In her Gloria Steinem type frames, she looked gorgeous to me.
“How did you do it?” Pete asked with amazement. “I figured maybe –0.75 max.”
“Come on Barry, tell us.” Don and Ronnie chimed in.
“Well guys, you know how we start off with either the patient’s old prescription, or else no prescription at all in the machine. Instead of no prescription I started off with a +1.50D astigmatic lens on an axis of 180. Of course she saw the chart blurry. Then I gave her a half diopter of minus, and reduced the plus astigmatic correction a quarter. I just kept switching the lenses, and reducing the astigmatism until I got her to –1.50D sphere, no astigmatism. I wanted to leave her with this, but she was having trouble seeing clearly up close, so I thought it best that I back off a quarter, which I did.” I advised them.
“Wonderful, this was just a brilliant idea on your part Barry.” Pete told me.
Ronnie reported that Cheryl had been trying all sorts of eye exercises from the Bates book. She had been palming, and swinging and shifting, and everything else including the sun treatment. She had also been doing some muscle strengthening exercises. But, her actual prescription, which Ronnie had lowered to –5D for the glasses that she was still wearing, was showing her to require a little over the –6D she had started with.
“She wants to give up guys. She feels that this is a bunch of hogwash.” Ronnie said.
“Well, I feel that we have managed to keep her prescription in the –6D range for the last 2 years, rather than having it increase by –1.00D or more per year like so many other student’s her age, but we have no proof of this.” Don replied.
“So, what we are seeing here is definitely not a repeat performance of Doctor Bates, where he took the 16 year old girl with progressive myopia, wearing thick yellow tinted glasses, who was forbidden to read from the sheets of music for her piano playing, and in just a few short hours of palming, and staring at the sun, her eyesight became normal, and she was able to continue leading a full, and productive life. Is this the conclusion we have arrived at?” I asked.
“Sure seems to be that way.” Ronnie answered.
“Are we just going to let Cheryl slide back into the mainstream, or do we have a way to stay in contact with her?” Pete asked.
“Oh, as long as you guys stay in touch with me after graduation, I am sure Cheryl will be around. By the way you will all be invited to the wedding.” Ronnie replied.
That was 3 of us now. Pete was engaged to Nan, I was engaged to Joyce, and now Ronnie was marrying Cheryl. Don was the only single one left.
Pete had legitimately increased Nanette’s prescription up by –1D just recently, and he had gotten Nan the most beautiful pair of glasses I had ever seen. Now remember, we were doing this around 1977, so there was no such thing as high index lenses. The style of the day was facetted lenses, with drop temples. If an ordinary young lady had taken a prescription of –11D into an optical store, there would not have been an optician in the country who would have allowed her to order a pair of faceted lenses. But, with Pete becoming an ophthalmologist, and having contact with a number of lens labs across the country he had found a lab that would do it for him. Most girls were choosing a little larger lens size than the lenses in Nan’s new glasses, but we were just fortunate that Pete had been able to obtain these lenses at all. So we all gazed in awe whenever we saw Nan with her new glasses. They had plano fronts with a slight purple gradient tint, and lenses that were over ¾” thick from the side. Even Ronnie, who was not really into glasses the same as Pete, and Don and I were, couldn’t keep his eyes off Nan when she was wearing her glasses. Unfortunately, in order to have Nan accept the thickness of her glasses Pete had been forced to order Nan contact lenses at the same time, and Nan really liked wearing the new soft lenses that had just arrived on the market.
When the 4 of us were in second year pre med, the local school board hired Joyce, and she became a teacher. We were not living together, but we spent a lot of our free time in each other’s company. I wanted to marry her, but I had promised myself that I would first increase her prescription up to –2D. So, I had Joyce drop by for another eye exam. It had been a year since I had given Joyce the –1.25D prescription. She wore her photo gray sunglasses all the time. I never saw her without them, so for over a year, her eyes had been looking at everything through these lenses. I sat Joyce in the chair. I removed her glasses, and I started off with a prescription of –2.50D in the phoropter. Joyce could see everything on the 20/20 line. I increased it to –2.75D, then to –3.00D. She could still see the 20/20, but she complained that it wasn’t as clear as it was the first time. So, I reluctantly backed her prescription off to –2.75. Instead of going any lower, I started to slide some plus astigmatism lenses in front of her eyes, and of course she complained that things were getting blurred. So, I took her back to the –2.75, and wisely left it there.
I wanted Joyce in facetted lenses, so I ordered her one pair of these. Then I ordered her a pair of dark tinted sunglasses, along with another pair of photo gray lensed glasses. The photo gray lenses were all right, but they were really too slow to change. And if you were inside a lot, they didn’t really get dark enough when you went back out. But Joyce faithfully wore all three pairs. I loved her in the facetted ones. My only wish was that Joyce could wear Nan’s glasses.
The four of us got together frequently to discuss our progress. The myopia reduction had definitely been a failure. Now Cheryl was wearing –7D lenses. Nan was holding her own, with no increase from the previous year, and Joyce was the success story. In 2 years and 4 months she had been taken from no glasses all the way up to a –2.75D prescription. And what was fantastic about this was that she didn’t seem to mind. Even when she took her glasses off momentarily, and realized that she couldn’t see very well without them anymore, she just put them back on, and sighed, as if to say, “Well, I used to be able to see without them.”
The following year saw another –0.75D increase for Joyce. I might not have been able to get away with it as easily this time, but since we were getting married, Joyce wanted contact lenses for the wedding. I got her –3.50D contacts, and of course that opened up a whole new ball game for us. Joyce now wanted to wear contact lenses as much as possible. Pete and Nan had been married a few months before Joyce and I were, and Cheryl and Ronnie were going to follow us into wedlock within a few months.
Sometimes when 2 people get married they have sex. And occasionally unprotected sex results in a pregnancy. This is how it happened that Joyce ended up heavy with child before I graduated. But, we were planning to have 2 children anyway, so it really didn’t matter. The worst part of it was that my wages as an intern were pretty skimpy, and Joyce had to take a maternity leave, so we were not living too high on the hog for a while. And, while I would have loved for this to happen at any other time, Joyce required an increase in her prescription during her pregnancy. This was a very common thing, so I wasn’t surprised, but I had to scrape up the money to get at least one new pair of glasses for Joyce with the additional diopter that she required. I was afraid that if we didn’t increase the power of her lenses, her prescription might slide back down after the breastfeeding was over. Now Joyce was wearing a gorgeous looking pair of –4.50D glasses.
Finally our residencies were completed. Don stayed in the San Francisco area, Pete and Nan, and Joyce and I returned to southern California, and Ronnie and Cheryl headed for Phoenix, where Cheryl’s family lived. Pete and I decided to pool the money we had and open up a vision care center. At this time there were wonderful developments coming in the field of optometry. Many doctors were trying a new type of refractive correction called PRK, which basically consisted of slitting a patient’s cornea like a piece of pie, and flattening it out to reduce the amount of myopia they had. This worked – sort of. Neither Pete, nor I would have allowed our wives or any members of our families to undergo the knife just so they wouldn’t have to wear glasses. And there were a large number of nasty side effects being reported. Some people were even forced to give up driving at night because of the starburst effect, and halo’s around lights. One thing that Pete and I were doing a lot of was the new lens implant surgery. This was a godsend to the folks that had cataracts, and had to have their lenses removed. Previously the aphaic eye would have had to have a lenticular plus lens of very high powers put in front of it, resulting in some pretty god awful ugly looking glasses. But now we could implant a little plastic lens right in the eye, and a lot of patients only had to wear weak powered glasses, or even just reading glasses. We were making very good money with this surgery.
Joyce and I had Amber, who was now 2 years old. Pete and Nan had Julie, who was a few months younger than Amber. As Amber approached her second birthday, Pete reminded me of my promise. I had managed to bring Joyce up another whole diopter recently, and now it was Amber’s turn. One Saturday morning I took Amber with me to the office. Amber was a great kid, and was fascinated with all the machinery. She was only too willing to jump up in the chair, and I examined her eyes very carefully. I decided that a prescription of –2D would not be too hard for Amber to adapt to, so I told Amber that she needed to wear glasses, and that we should choose a frame for her. We chose a darling little pink plastic frame, with cable temples. My man at the lens lab was in, so he made me up Amber’s glasses immediately. When I placed the glasses on Amber’s face, I expected a bit of a fuss, but Amber didn’t say a thing.
Joyce was a little disappointed that Amber had to wear glasses at such a young age, but after the initial reaction wore off she accepted the fact. And since Amber was being so good about wearing her glasses “just like mummy” Joyce had no further objections.
It wasn’t long after that that we discovered that Joyce was pregnant again. I managed to slip Joyce another –1.50D during this pregnancy. Now Joyce was a high myope, with a prescription of –7.50D in each eye. It was funny in a way. While Nan had been pregnant Pete had noticed that she was going to be able to take another –1.50D if he wanted to give her an increase. But, by now Nan had a prescription of –13.50D, so Pete stalled the increase as long as he possibly could, and when Nan was finished breast-feeding Julie her eyes settled back to the point where she only required an increase of –0.50D. She looked great in her new –14.00D glasses.
Also while Joyce was pregnant with our second baby, Julie had reached her second birthday. I reminded Pete of the promise that he had made, and he took Julie in for an eye examination. Julie was discovered to be a real myope, and she came away with a darling pair of –5.00D glasses.
By the time 10 years had passed from our initial conversation, my second daughter had just gotten her new –2.00D glasses, just like her older sister. Tanya also took to wearing glasses readily, probably because she had both her mom and her older sister who wore glasses to copy. Pete and Nan had been able to produce a son, Jason, and Pete had been true to his word. Even though Jason didn’t require any prescription at age 2, he received the same –2.00D lenses to wear as my 2 girls had gotten.
Now we had Joyce, who had slowly crept up to –8.00D over the last 3 years, Nan, who was wearing –15.00D lenses in her glasses, Amber, who was wearing –3.50D glasses, Julie, who had –7.50D lenses in her glasses, and Tanya, and Jason who had both just gotten –2.00D glasses. Pete was still trying every trick he knew of to keep Nan’s prescription down to a more manageable level. And he was trying his best to keep Julie with as low a prescription as possible. But, Joyce was getting as large an increase as I could possibly give her every year. The other children were being restricted to no more than -0.50D per year as well. Our little study was going well.
Ronnie and Cheryl in Phoenix had also been blessed with 2 children, a boy and a girl, and Cheryl’s glasses were now up in the –10D range and I was a little jealous that it had been so easy for Cheryl to have her myopia increase naturally. Ronnie had followed the same procedures that Pete and I had with our children. Don was never going to have any children. He was still living, and practicing in San Francisco. His partner at this time was a nice young extremely nearsighted chap named Phillip. Don had come out of the closet, and no longer hid his sexual preferences. None of us condemned Don for this, and we all stayed in close contact with him.
Over the next ten years Pete and I had hundreds of young beginning myopes to practice on. We would always tell a young person who had just been discovered to need a small minus prescription that if they chose to do vision training exercises, they might be able to avoid the need for glasses. In probably about 50% of the cases, particularly the ones whose parents were involved, the vision training was chosen. Out of every 100 children who received vision training, over 60% went on to require glasses, although at a later stage in life. The other 40% either moved away, or were able to avoid wearing glasses. We also followed the children who chose not to have the vision training. Many of the kids who were prescribed a low minus did not wear the first pair of glasses that they were prescribed for any length of time. Once the initial novelty wore off, the –0.75D glasses were shelved. But in 90% of these cases, the child came back within a year to be prescribed stronger lenses. This effectively debunked the myth that wearing glasses ruins your eyes as far as Pete and I were concerned. We were able to conclude that the younger the child was when prescribed their first pair of glasses, the stronger a prescription they ended up with. Although, to be fair, we also found there were also a number of exceptions. We had a few girls that had gotten glasses at age 9 who had reached the age of 18 without getting any higher than around a –2.50D. And we also had a couple of girls who had gotten their first glasses at age 12, and had been around –8D or –9D by the time they were 18. We were having a really hard time getting a handle on this thing called myopia.
During this 10 year period I had finally managed to get Joyce up to a –10D prescription. I was thrilled every time I looked at my wife, with her eyes minimized behind the strong lenses. Pete had managed to keep Nan from getting past –17.50D, but even so her glasses were fantastic looking to me. Julie had the highest prescription of any of the children. She was, at age 16, a gorgeous looking girl with a prescription of –14.00D. Pete and I both hoped that we would be able to keep her prescription down below –19 by the time she reached 21. But what surprised both Pete and myself was that Amber, who had been given only –0.50D increases until she turned 14, had for the last 3 years gone up from –8.00D to –12.50 at age 17. She had required increases of –1.50D per year naturally. And both Tanya and Jason who were now age15 had been following suit.
During the past 5 years Joyce and Nan both have had their prescriptions remain stable. Julie is a little over –19D, but she hasn’t reached the –20D mark yet. Amber climbed up to –14D at age 18, and has remained there ever since. Tanya and Jason are also both at –14D, and it looks as though they might also remain stable.
Pete and I met with Ronnie at Don’s funeral last week in San Francisco. Even doing everything possible to fight the dreaded disease, it still claimed Don’s life. But Ronnie, and Pete and I had a great time rehashing old times.
“So, remember how disappointed we all were with Doctor Carter after that lecture he gave us?” Ronnie asked.
“You mean the lecture where he shot down all of our ideas?” I replied.
“That’s the one, of course. I think that was the only time he lectured us.” Ronnie said.
“Well, I remember how disgusted we were with his attitude at the time. I know, speaking for myself, I was terribly disappointed that he couldn’t give us more of a handle on the causes of, the progression of, and the possible cures for myopia.” Pete joined in.
“And now after 25 years of practice in the field, can any one of us give a more definitive answer to our questions?” I asked.
“Not me. Myopia is still as big a mystery today as it was then.” Ronnie said with a chuckle.
“The three of us have done all sorts of experiments, and we are still no further ahead. We all have a circle of very myopic family members though, so I guess it was worth it.” Pete replied.
Specs4ever. From an idea by Emily