by John Forth
I was already wearing black NHS spectacles by the age of nine. I liked them - they gave me a nice, studious image - and relieved me of my frequent headaches. Within two years, lenses of -1.50D became a permanent fixture, following the explicit request of the optician to use them at all times. I found I could no longer see if I took them off anyway; the headaches would return and I would feel dreadful.
Glasses did not seem to affect my life. I participated in sports and became the British junior champion of Thai boxing. It involved close-up fighting, so lenses were not needed.
As a self-conscious teenager, I bought my first pair of hard contacts. I had became a member of a punk rock band with a Mohican hairstyle, so glasses were a "no no." But my eyes became so sore, red and gritty that I would burst into tears with pain and frustration. I was assured by the optician that I would get used to them. I was not aware that my astigmatism could have made the contact lenses even more uncomfortable.
By the age of 26, I was wearing a mixture of fashion glasses and expensive toric lenses, which correct astigmatism. I had no problem in reading music as a piano and flute teacher, but I had never been able to play by memory.
After a few years in this profession, I felt I was in need of a new challenge. I happened to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger film in which a guy stole a plane to flee from danger. I thought it looked really good to be able to fly off like that! Then and there I decided to have a trial flying lesson at my local club. I enjoyed being at three to four thousand feet in four-seater light aircraft!
At last I had found something I really wanted to do. Initially it was to be for pleasure but I soon made up my mind to become a commercial airline pilot. It did not occur to me that there could be problems in obtaining the class one medical because of my eyesight, but I thought I ought to phone up my opticians to find out my prescription.
My right eye was -3.00D including -0.50D of astigmatism, while my left eye was -3.00D including -2.00D. To my dismay, I was right at the edge of the limit set by the CAA. If my vision worsened, my future career would be in jeopardy. I spoke to my flying instructor who advised me to apply immediately for the medical, as the limit concerned the initial investigation only (since September 2000, the CAA have set a new limit of up to - 5.00D or +3.00D, including no more than + or - 2.00D of astigmatism. This is acceptable provided vision can be corrected to 6/9).
I went ahead with the medical at Gatwick and passed. I was tested with and without glasses but the examiner did not seem worried by the fact that I could see only the top letter of the chart, as long as I could see 6/9 with my glasses. I was also tested for colour blindness and astigmatism.
But I needed to maintain my vision and hopefully improve it. I had briefly toyed with the idea of laser surgery, but the CAA ground staff for two years afterwards, so effectively ending one’s career. I has also read Dr Bates’ book "Better Eyesight without Glasses" and "Improve Your Vision" by Jonathan Barnes. I also happened to see an article in the Manchester Evening News in autumn 1998 about Reg O’Sullivan. He had obtained his pilot’s licence after naturally improving his eyesight with the Bates Method. He originally had -5.00D of short sight.
I was really impressed by this and asked my optician’ advice. He dismissed the whole concept of Bates, said that it was outmoded and that it was impossible to change the shape of the eyeball. But I thought how can one refute the evidence of Reg’s experience? Spectacles have been around for hundreds of years, and why should my eyeball have changed by the age of 27?
So I logged on the Internet and found the Bates web site, www.seeing.org, in June of this year. I contacted my local teacher Wendy Finch, who had originally helped Reg.
I have only had two lessons but I can already see and feel the benefits of the Bates Method. I sun and palm regularly for up to two or three hours a day if possible. I feel so much more relaxed - no headaches or eyestrain. I don’t try to see - I just let it come. If it doesn’t - tough - there is no problem. I also feel so much better in myself. My shoulders and neck are no longer stiff, which has helped my vision. I no longer have astigmatism in my right eye and the prescription has been reduced to -2.25D. The astigmatism in my left eye has reduced a little, to -1.75D, but I need to work on this. When I look at the test card I can see 6/12 and with glasses 6/3. If the Bates Method helps me to dispense with glasses altogether, that is great. I am just as happy, however, to realise that I am in control of my situation: my mind, body and eyesight. I could have made all sorts of excuses and ignored the evidence, and taken the easy way out by absolving all personal responsibility. It has been so worthwhile that I am letting other pilots know about the Bates Method through the professional pilots’ rumour network on the Internet.
I am pleased to say that I am starting my commercial pilot’s training in January 2001. I now know I can achieve my ambition!