Recovery from Early Blindness

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R L Gregory and J G Wallace

Reproduced from Experimental Psychology Society Monograph No. 2 1963

6. The End of the Case

We find that a common feature of the earlier cases is a psychological crisis following the operation. There are many instances given by von Senden; two examples will serve as illustrations: -

Mesmer (1777)

In her ill-humour she once complained to her father; 'How comes it that I now find myself less happy than before? Everything that I see causes me a disagreeable emotion. Oh, I was much more at ease in my blindness.' The father consoled his daughter with the thought that her present agitation was solely due to the sensation of strangeness in the sphere she was now moving in. The new situation she found herself plunged into by the recovery of her sight must necessarily awaken in her an uneasiness never felt before. She would, however, become as calm and contented as others, as soon as she had grown more accustomed to seeing. 'I am glad to hear it', she replied, 'for if I were always to feel such uneasiness as I do at present at the sight of new things, I would sooner return on the spot to my former blindness'." (von Senden, p. 160 - 61)

Beer (1783 - 1813)

"Among the most remarkable psychological phenomena presented to my observation in all the patients so far operated upon, is the rapid and complete loss of that striking and wonderful serenity which is characteristic only of those who have never yet seen; for hardly are the first lively sallies of their curiosity satisfied after the operation, than already they evince this striking transformation of their attitude. Gloomy and reserved, they now shun for a time the society of others, which was so indispensable to them while they were blind that they lamented every moment that they were obliged to spend without it.
Might not the reason for this sudden and striking change of temper, indeed I might say of the whole character, be partly due, perhaps, to the fact that the patients have supposed all objects, which they could only get to know by feeling when blind, to be quite different from what they subsequently see them to be; and might not also even a sort of injured pride contribute something to this transformation, in that they now suddenly find themselves so far behind other people of their age, even in the most trivial matters of knowledge? I fancy that in some at least, I have found traces of such a thing." (von Senden, p. 161).

Now it seems clear that S.B. had a similar crisis, starting at the time he left hospital, and not ending before his death.

Before the operation he was regarded by everybody as a cheerful rather dominant person, and we independently formed this opinion when we first saw him at the hospital. He seemed changed when he came to London; dispirited and bored. It seemed to all of us that he was deeply disturbed; yet too proud to admit or discuss

We give now two letters written to us by his wife, which give some insight into his mental condition at this time.

Dear Mr. Gregory,
Sorry to have kept you waiting for the enclosed drawings from my husband, but he is not at all well. He has been at home from work for the last six weeks with internal shingles and nerve pains, mostly in his right arm, hand and shoulder, also all underneath his arm and chest it is swollen with pain.
He has treatment continually from his doctor. It is the reaction no doubt, and he is not well enough to join you as you talked about when you were here.
He is very disappointed about everything. But when he feels better he says he will do more drawings for you when he is able. S. says Mr. Hirtenstein is very pleased with the condition of his eyes. And he wishes you a very Happy Christmas and hopes to see you again soon.
Best wishes to Miss J. Wallace and yourself.

The second letter we do not give quite in full because she has described part as confidential. (It does not add a great deal to the picture.)

Dear Mr. Gregory,
I was very sorry that Mr. B. was not well enough to be at your lecture [a lecture given at the Christmas meeting of the British Psychological Society in London at which we had hoped he could be present] but he really wasn't fit to undertake the journey. He is not any better. I wish you could help him. His nerves are so bad, I can see his hands trembling, even as he ate porridge this morning, and he could not cut even sausages on his plate. He had a notice from National Health Ins, to see another Doctor, and I have been told it was a Psychiatrist. But instead of seeing him Mr. B. signed off and went back to work. I think hospital rest would do him good. If he collapses again, I shall see what his doctor says, He (Mr. B.) has been at home weeks, ill, having injections from his doctor and Codines and tablets, and has great pain in his right arm.
We shall be pleased to hear from you. I think it would be well not to mention this letter of mine. Mr. B. needs the help, which I think you can give to him, but would not agree to my asking for it. I want to get him well again, as he was a cheerful help to me and lots of people, and he had great faith and patience, which has now gone. It seems to me our world is not grand as we thought and Mr. B. did not know the way people acted - until he got his sight. I still think that the physical and mental ill-treatment, which we have both endured years ago, before we met each other, have contributed a great deal towards his ill health. Some things best forgotten, but some people can be very cruel. (There follows a paragraph about S.B. 's present state which she describes as confidential) . . . but since last Sunday, he has sat listening to the wireless, in the evenings, content with the dog which makes a great fuss of him, S., as he does not get home until 5.30 p.m. from 7.0 a.m. and I can't imagine S. will manage to keep going at that rate.
Yours sincerely,

On 2nd August, 1960, S.B. died.

His story is in some ways tragic. He suffered one of the greatest handicaps, and yet he lived with energy and enthusiasm. When his handicap was apparently swept away, as by a miracle, he lost his peace and his self-respect.

We may feel disappointment at a private dream come true: S.B. found disappointment with what he took to be reality.

continues with Section 7 - Relevance to the Theory of Perception

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