Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Things I wrote for school...When Death Wore a Suit

The Plague Suit

Most of us are aware that the Bubonic Plague, because of fleas and carried on the backs of rodents, spread throughout Medieval Europe and killed a lot of people. Since cats were being killed at the time due to their obvious ties to witchcraft, nothing stood between an unknowing populace and the Black Death. Deathships full of people  dead or dying from the plague and their accompanying insect populations brought disease to all reaches of the ancient world and people led by superstition and ruled by fear didn’t know how to conquer it.

Plague physicians were specifically hired by towns in time of epidemic. Treating both the rich and poor, they weren’t usually actually trained doctors, rather young or crappy doctors that couldn’t otherwise find work—sometimes even fruit sellers who wanted to make more money. Being a plague physician was lucrative work since real doctors fled as the plague traveled, knowing nothing they could do would stop the death toll from rising.

In this era, they believed that the plague was being carried by birds so these doctors often wore a mask shaped like the beak of a bird. Red glass eyes peered out of the creepy beaked mask to further dissuade evil from conquering the fake docs. The plague attacked the glands, so the doctor would cover the neck and face with fabric or the mask. The beak of the mask could be filled with flowers or other sweet smelling things to protect the wearer from the reek of death which would make them sick. Protected from the "miasma," they’d cover their robes with suet to further keep disease from bringing them as low as their patients.

Plague doctors were allowed to preform autopsies—not allowed at the time for any other practicing medical professional since it could be considered witchcraft—to try to find a cure. They carried a cane so they didn’t have to touch the bodies of the sick and to help repent the ill from their sins. Although sometimes used to point family members in various directions, they would poke or beat the sick with the cane also, since this was a possible cure and it allowed the doctor to avoid close exposure to the sickness.
Aside from beating the evil out of the sick, they could also practice bloodletting and putting frogs on the humors to attempt to cure their patients. The image above is a 1656 engraving done by Paul Furst called the Doctor Beak of Rome  (Wikepedia) which included the traditional fitted and wide brimmed black hat to identify the doctor, the gas mask full of herbs shaped like a bird, the red glass eye pieces to ward off evil, the black overcoat, the cane and the waders. To modern times, the mask is still a sign of death and is popular in many parades.

So, my readers...picture a person wearing a giant beak peering at you with red glass eyes wearing a long overcoat and beating the sick out of you.

Good times, right?

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if I can add that to my treatments when I become a Psychologist? hmm *rubs chin* *Snicker*