The Plague Doctor

The Black Death was one of the worst catastrophes humankind has ever faced.  Even today when someone mentions "the plague" it is generally understood that they are referring to the Black Death as it was the plague to end all human plagues.  The first major flare up in Europe occurred in the 14th century.  It then continued to wreak havoc, off and on, for nearly 400 years. What's even crazier is that the plague still exists today.  So you know, here are the symptoms, because Ebola and the Walking Dead disease aren't scary enough.

The bacteria-caused disease attacks an infected person's lymph nodes causing severe swelling in the groin, armpits and neck.  The is also severe vomiting (usually accompanied with blood) and intense pain.  The pain is usually the result of the infected person's skins decomposing while they are still alive.  Here is a picture of a person suffering with the plague. WARNING: GRAPHIC.

Imagine the terror you would feel when you came down with a fever and started noticing swellings under your armpits and around your groin.  You would know your days were numbered.  In the feverish delirium that often accompanied those who suffered from the plague you hear a knock on your door.  When you open it you are greeted by this:

Source: http://www.tombanwell.com/plague-doctor-masks-etc/

Source: http://www.tombanwell.com/plague-doctor-masks-etc/

A Plague Doctor

This is pretty close to how Plague Doctor's appeared in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The unusual, beaked mask, while looking completely terrifying, actually served a practical purpose.  The doctors would stuff sweet smelling herbs and rose petals in the mask, partly because of the putrid smell many victims puts off and partly because it was generally believed that the disease was transmitted through the air.  The wore a hood, hat, a long cloak thick leather gloves and leather boots, in an attempt to protect themselves from the disease.  They also carried a cane around to inspect their patients without having to touch them.

After overcoming your initial shock and terror, you let the doctor in to your house with the hopes he can do something to alleviate your suffering.  

Then the real horror begins.

Back in the day people believed the body had four different humors, Yellow Bile, Black Bile, Water and Blood.  When your humors were out of balance you became sick, so the Bubonic plague was believed to be due to unbalanced humors.  The solution?  Stick a leech on a patient's arms and let suck some blood out to restore balance, thus healing the patient.  Sounds crazy I know, but it's still a step above believing you were sick because you pissed off your dead great-grandmother.   

As scary as they were, the men who served as plague doctors did so at great personal sacrifice.  They were not allowed to mingle with the general public since they were constantly exposed to the disease.  They were witnesses to many patients' wills, and offered counsel to many on how they should prepare for their impending death.  Additionally they had the unpleasant task of disposing of the dead while also keeping records of the dead.  Since the plague ended up killing as many as 200 million people, you can imagine how busy the doctors were with their duties.  It is easy to see why the doctors became synonymous with death.  

 

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