“Before I had electric light I had two paraffin lamps on a table, varying the distance of each lamp and the height of the flame as required.” Light was always an issue for ophthalmologists in the early 1900s and Worth had to be inventive. Electricity clearly made a huge difference when it came along. Claud Worth, in addition to being innovative and possessing an observant and enquiring clinical mind, was clearly an empathetic doctor who was popular with patients, their parents and with students of paediatric ophthalmology. From his obituary in The Br J Ophthalmology in September 1936: “Worth was very successful in handling small children. Quiet and unassuming in manner, his gentleness to his patients endeared him to young and old alike. Children instinctively trusted him”. Children were kept in for a week after surgery: “A young child is kept in bed with both eyes bandaged for the first four days. The sutures are removed before the child leaves the hospital”. Although the general concept of squint surgery (moving muscles to alter ocular alignment) has not changed much since the early 20th century, the technicalities have changed a bit. We are all used to the ease of use Vicryl sutures. Worth had to make his own. “I use the black silk made for sewing boots by W.H.Staynes, Leicester.” The suture is coated with… “a very hot mixture of white beeswax…and white Vaseline”.
CLAUD WORTH - the mariner
If he had not made a name for himself in ophthalmology Worth’s name and books would be familiar to many a small yacht sailor. He had a lifelong love of the sea but was denied a career in the Royal Navy. He was deeply knowledgeable about currents, harbours and all aspects of seamanship. He was president of the Little Ship Club, and Vice-Commodore of the Royal Cruising Club, a master mariner and first class pilot. He wrote classic tomes on small yacht sailing: “Yacht Cruising” in 1910 and later “Yacht Navigation and Voyaging” In 1927. Both of them ran to many editions. Some of his boats he designed himself and he was keen to prove that, with the appropriate boat design and seamanship skills, small boats could be sailed safely in deep water and on long voyages. He sailed his own boat to the Azores. “Great seas of deep sapphire blue, with here and there the intense white of a breaking crest and spin drift sparkling in the sun.”
Much of the information for this biopic was obtained from the Obituary of Claud Worth in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, September 1936. Other information was provided by Professor David Taylor from his talk about Claud Worth given at the Children’s Eye Group Meeting before the first Claud Worth Medal lecture in 2004.
Claud Worth was born in Holbeach, Lincolnshire in 1869, the son of Thomas Mordaunt Worth. He was educated at Bedford School and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. He qualified in1893, and became F.R.C.S.in 1898. Worth began the study of ophthalmology under Henry Power and Bowater Vernon at St. Bartholomew’s and joined staff at Moorfields in 1906. He was, for many years, ophthalmic surgeon to the West Ham Hospital in the East End (which became Queen Mary’s Hospital Mile End Road). Worth gained fame in two rather diverse areas of specialization: the management of childhood squint and amblyopia, and the sailing and navigation of small yachts. He wrote books about both subjects which continue to adorn the bookshelves of many strabismologists and sailors today. Testimony to his inventiveness can be seen in eye clinics across the world in the form of Worth’s 4 dot test and modern versions of the “amblyoscope”. Worth’s balls are less likely to be found actively used in eye clinics although there are probably several sets at the back of cupboards in the orthoptic departments up and down the country!