I was on a visit to a friend of mine in his new house a couple of weeks ago. His sitting room was exquisitely furnished and fascinating. There were mirrors everywhere. His young inquisitive niece, about nine years old, came to greet me.
“Big uncle,” she asked, “why is it that I can look through the window pane and see things outside but when I look at the looking glass, I can only see myself.
They are both glass. Aren’t they?” She asked innocently, at least so I thought at the time. I looked at her and smiled. As a child I had always been fascinated by mirrors. Once I had gone behind a mirror to see if the person who was staring me in the face was behind it! It took sometime for me to appreciate that the face in the mirror was mine! Not until after I had waved at it and it had waved back at me in return.
“Bunmi, do you know the difference between the clear window pane and the looking glass?” I asked, least expecting a positive reply. “It is exactly the same as the glass in the mirror. The difference is the coating of silver at the back of the looking glass, which prevents light from passing through it.
“Light from your face is reflected back into your eyes and that is why you can see your face,” was her explicit reply. The transparent window pane, on the other hand, allows light to pass through both ways unhindered. That is why you can see people and things behind it and they in turn can see the people in front of it.”
I was stunned as she left me in no doubt that she was examining my knowledge.
“Big Uncle, I got all the information from the internet! When I asked Uncle about it he said, ‘What is the internet for? Get on the web and find out!’ And I did! What do you think about the information I have garnered?” She asked excitedly.
“Excellent. You are a very bright girl. You’ve been able to unravel the mystery of the looking glass at a much tender age than I did.”
The mirror still has a lot of fascination for me. It is widely used in eye examinations. You can find it naked on the wall or hidden in many of the instruments we use in eye care. I was going to go deeper into the uses of the mirror when Sesan, Bunmi’s elder brother in the medical school, came in. “Big Uncle, thank God you are here! I have to submit an essay on ‘The eye as a mirror of the body’ tomorrow. Can I get some information from you?”
“That is absolutely rubbish!” Bunmi exclaimed. “The eye has none of the qualities of a mirror,” she added. I smiled wryly. Sesan could not hold his laughter. “Bunmi, this is an idiomatic expression to indicate how looking into the eye can reveal things happening in the rest of the body,” Sesan explained.
“Uncle, is that true?” She asked, looking for confirmation from me. “Yes it is!” I replied.
“A pale conjunctiva (which lines the inner surface of the lid) means there isn’t enough blood in the patient. If it is yellowish, we say there is jaundice and that portends bad omen because either the blood is excessively being broken down or the liver or its excreting system is affected.
“If you use the special system of mirrors in the instrument called the ophthalmoscope, you can look into the inner recesses of the eye. This can tell you quite a lot. You can tell a patient with diabetes and how long he has had the disease. It is possible to detect hypertension and how severe it is.
“I can recall many patients who would have died suddenly without anyone knowing the cause if not that they had some blurring of their vision and found their way to the eye medical doctor who ensured that the hypertension received prompt attention. We can also detect the presence of sickle cell disease by looking into the eye. Do you know that the eye is also a good mirror for some events inside the skull?
“Now, I am working on the possibility of being able to detect a person’s character by looking into his eyes,” I said to cap it all.
“Big Uncle, is that a joke?” Asked Sesan.
“Certainly it’s no joke! It will be a device like the lie detector!” I added.