Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Vision of Divine Mercy

For the past twelve months my son and I have been on quite a journey exploring his vision.

I took him to the optometrist for the first time last July, at the age of 5, for an annual exam before entering Kindergarten. He had never shown any difficulties and I expected him to pass with flying colors. Therefore I was quite surprised to find that he presented with astigmatism and convergence deficiency (meaning his eyes did not focus together close-up) – this despite 20/20 vision.

Glasses were prescribed with a follow-up visit in one month to see how he was doing with the new glasses. August came, and the doctor was not happy. The prism he had installed within the lens had not done what he had hoped for, as far as bringing his eyes to focus better together. He suggested vision therapy.

I spent a frustrating few days making telephone calls, before finding one pediatric ophthalmologist in my area who performed visual training and took our health plan. She had a good reputation – and was booked for almost three months.

In the meantime, I taught him how to do “pencil push-ups”, in which the child looks at the tip of a pencil eraser or other interesting object while moving it from about a foot away to the tip of his nose. This was an exercise I used to do as a child for the same disorder. An internet search showed this was still the most effective at-home exercise. One study also found at home exercise to be just as effective as in-office visits, when monitored by a professional; the key was diligence in doing the exercises.

That October I took him out of school for the long-awaited visit. It required dilation of the pupil, which would cause some discomfort and blurriness of vision. When I entered the office with my son and the baby, I was a bit put-off by the doctor’s haughty attitude. She also had two young women with her, whom she introduced as “doctors”, although they had earlier introduced themselves to me as students. When I described my family ocular history, and told her of my other two children, she gave me a hard look that seemed to condemn me for bringing four children into the world with eye problems. I was just so astounded by her attitude that I literally became dumb-founded.

I listened, nodding, as she patronized my optometrists techniques and said my son showed absolutely no sign of convergence insufficiency (“A sign the exercises had worked?”, I thought), but instead had a strabismus – or “lazy eye”. She could easily correct this with surgery, she said. She prescribed a course of “patching” the weak eye for one to two hours per day for three months. At the end of those three months, if enough improvement was shown, there would be no need for an operation.

Although I had done some experiments in visual perception as a graduate studying Experimental Psychology, the questions I had in my mind were clouded and could not be formed into words. I therefore came out of there feeling as if she had treated me like an idiot. And wondering to myself why I had been unable to speak.

I scoured the literature for information on this surgery. There was some risk involved and a high rate of repeated surgeries. My gut reaction was to avoid this except as a last resort. Then I found a whole body of literature about vision therapy, and learned about several exercises I could do at home with him.

For three months, for a half hour each day, we did these together. We also did the maximum recommended patching – and prayed. In January I brought him again, hopeful that she would find an improvement.

She found a fifty percent improvement – but still wanted to operate! I realized that what I had neglected to do, in my inability to ask questions at the first visit, was ask for her parameters for success – how much improvement was she expecting as her guidelines for whether or not to operate – and I felt that she just wanted to operate on my son from the very beginning. She sat silently waiting for an answer – when did I want to schedule the surgery? I paused for a moment before responding.

“Well, seeing he’s made such an improvement so far, can’t we see if he’ll do even better if given three more months, perhaps with more time patching?” She seemed doubtful but “didn’t want to push” – so she agreed. “Just don’t wait for too long. His depth perception is failing, and as his neural pathways are forming they will be set in this wrong way of seeing. If he should ever lose vision in the other eye he would be legally blind.” Nothing like scaring a mother into trusting you with her son’s eyes! I found another doctor for a second opinion and pushed on with the exercises for another six weeks.

The night before this all-important appointment, I decided to do the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. (I found a nice website with good directions at: My mother had said it was particularly powerful – and that was just what was needed. I had never been in the habit of saying rote prayers before, but quickly discovered that, by losing my self in the words, the intent was brought into clearer focus.

The doctor had his assistant administer a simple test in which he was supposed to try to pick the wings off of nine dragonflies as they appeared to “fly” off the page. They looked at eachother in amazement. “He picked all nine! This child has perfect depth perception.” The doctor said to continue doing whatever I was doing with him, as it seemed to be working.

This spring we were amazed at how well he did with baseball. Without depth perception, it is impossible to hit a baseball. This was more proof of the improvements he had made since the previous summer. In hindsight we can see he wasn’t even seeing the ball!

At the last check-up, both eyes were found to be equally strong, with a slight tendency to diverge. Our optometrist said, “If you had chosen to operate, his eyes would have focused at one distance but not another, and another surgery would have been needed, followed by more vision therapy.” He presently is working with us hand-in-hand, recommending at-home exercises with monthly office visits to monitor his progress.

We learned so much from this experience. We learned about the relation between self-education and the treatment received in doctors’ offices. We learned that with faith and a willingness to go the extra mile the seemingly impossible can be achieved.

Prayer to St. Odilia

O God, Who in Your Kindness did give us St. Odilia, Virgin and Martyr,
as the Protectress of the Order of the Holy Cross
and the Patroness of the eyes and afflicted,
grant us, we humbly beseech You,
Your protection through her intercession
from the darkness of ignorance and sin,
and grant us healing from blindness of the eyes and other bodily infirmities.
Through Him, Who is the Light and Life of the World,
Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord.


I am adding some more information to my post in answer to a reader's questions about where to find the exercises that I have been doing with my son. I was unable to reply using blogger and did not have a personal email address available. I think the information could be helpful to others, so here it is...

Dear Reader,
The most helpful website I found was
Go to the library and look up "vision therapy", "eye exercises", "orthoptics", "Bates Method". There are several books based on the work of W.H. Bates, an opthalmologist who wrote "Perfect Sight Without Glasses" in 1920. "Better Vision without Glasses", a few versions of which have been written by one of his followers, is one that describes many of the techniques I have been using. There was also a video that I used with my son. I am not posting the name of it because there are probably some better, more current ones available. The Cambridge Institute for Better Vision has a program at; you can save yourself the program fee by taking their book out from the library.
The exercises we are mostly using are called:
thumb rotations
near-far shifting
convergence string
pencil push-ups
If you can't find these please write to me with a personal email address and I will describe them for you.
There was also one my optometrist told me to do and I don't know its name. I use a flashlight in a darkened room and flash a light intermittently on all four corners of a small wall. He is supposed to use one eye at a time to follow it. I rotate to the right, then to the left, first with one eye closed, then with the other eye closed, then with both eyes open.
Baseball is also a great, fun exercise.
You can't hit a ball that is coming to you without depth perception!
Best of luck to you,


Angie said...

Praise Be To God!

I'm sorry that the one doctor made you feel so bad, but kudos to you for continuing working at home and for being an advocate for him!

Natalia said...

Hi! I'm a brand-new reader following a link about something completely different from another blog, and the first thing I read was this post. I believe it was very important for me to see as I have two boys with very similar problems, and I have NEVER seen a post about these issues. My middle boys are older, though (8 and 10) and due to their showing no signs of sight issues, it was missed until recently. They give us little hope for the older one for patching as I guess there's an age window where it works, and said the same thing re: legally blind in one eye. I would so VERY much appreciate it if you could point me to the exercises you did with your son, and let me know if you think they could still help my two middle boys at their ages. Feeling tearful with worry as I write this and thanking God for bringing me to your post,

Loren Christie said...

Oh, you are an excellent mother. I love this post, and that you followed your gut!