Sudden Restoration of Eyesight

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I found an amazing story while looking in old articles from the New York Times. It's from March 25, 1894, but it could just as easily happen today.

Man is Blinded by Electrical Flash

"James Caulfield, who was stricken blind by a flash from the Brooklyn trolley wire Thursday afternoon, has recovered his sight. The manner in which he regained his eyesight is almost as extraordinary as the way in which he lost it."

As he left his workplace Mr. Caulfield looked up to see a tremendous spark, as a trolley wheel slipped off its wire. (The early days of electricity!) His eyes received the full impact of the flash, then his world went dark. The young man spun and would have fallen if bystanders had not caught him. He said it was “as if a looking glass has flashed a noonday sun full into his eyes. Then darkness came - he could see nothing.”

Caufield was examined by Dr. J. B. Raub, who felt after inspecting the eyes that the case was not as serious as it seemed. His diagnosis was hysterical amblyopia. Perhaps he chose his words carefully in not calling it "hysterical blindness". (Amblyopia usually means that the vision in one eye turns off in certain circumstances, for instance to avoid seeing double.)

The patient was instructed to retreat to a darkened room for days and then return to the doctor. The doctor also gave him "soporific mixtures" to help him sleep and relax his nerves.

An Unusual Protocol Brings Sight Back Instantly

By the time his patient returned, Dr. Raub had worked out a theory. He surmised that Mr. Caulfield’s imagination had been as vivid as the flash itself. He believed Caufield had persuaded himself he could not see, and therefore really was blind.

Several family members escorted the patient on his grim return to the gloom of the darkened doctor’s office. The NY Times article reports that Dr. Raub casually held a mirror up to him and asked in a unexpectant tone, “Do you see what I have in my hand.” The reply was negative.

Then the doctor distinctly caught a ray of light, reflected it with the mirror, and said firmly “Now you see what it is!” And he did see. The young man uttered a joyful scream and then excitedly greeted everyone present with his restored vision. He felt well enough to go back to his workplace.

The doctor was asked if his method was perhaps hypnotism. He smiled and said it was influence of “mind over mind”, but could not say what to call it. “it occurred to me that it was merely a cessation of the will power over the nerve centeres with control the eyes, and my work was to restore this faulty, which had been suspended… the dormant faculty was aroused, and sight returned.”

Does Belief Affect Eyesight?

I love anecdotal reports where a contagious faith causes a sudden, and sometimes permanent, restoration of eyesight! Perhaps in the case above the young man’s eyesight would have returned gradually on its own. But either way it strengthens my own personal arsenal about the power of belief to change a physical condition.

Dr. William H. Bates told many stories like this one. Sometimes he would call the process relaxation. Sometimes imagination. Sometimes thoughts or emotions. Always he felt there was a way to proceed if his patient was interested and open and dedicated to restoring their sight.

Dr. Bates was 33 years old when this story appeared in the New York Times. I wonder if these two doctors ever met? (They were both in New York City.) I think they would have gotten along well!

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