I AM A Black Death (The Plague) Doctor

I AM A Black Death (The Plague) Doctor


The year is 1631. I now live in Venice, a once great city state
that for a time was the richest city in Europe, but today is ravaged by a mysterious disease
that has in just a year claimed the lives of thousands. But I can not let my fear of the epidemic
and the horrible fate that awaits the infected overcome me, because I am a Plague Doctor. I prepare for the day by dressing in a special
outfit: tough leather breeches to protect my legs, a long heavy coat that covers my
entire body, the wide brimmed hat that all doctors wear, and of course, my mask, the
beak filled with herbs and perfumes to ward off the foul smelling air of disease. I spend my days traveling to the homes of
the sick, checking in on the infected and diagnosing new cases. I employ the most advanced medical knowledge
of the day, performing blood lettings and advising the ill to rub onions on their sores. I use a cane to examine the very sickest of
my patients so that I don’t have to touch them. Will these techniques work? Will I be able to cure the sick or at least
offer them some comfort in their final moments? Will I be able to find the source of the disease? And most importantly for me, will my precautions
protect me from the same fate? This is far from the first plague. The historians tells us that they’ve occured
for centuries yet each seems as if the world is finally coming to its end. From the plague of Justinian that ravaged
the eastern Roman capital of Constantinople to the black death that left over a third
of europe dead. Now, three hundred years after the last terrible
outbreak on the continent it has reappeared here in Venice. And this plague has hit our city hard. Once a center of culture and commerce, we
are seeing our time as a powerful city state waning. The streets are empty and shops are barren
with over a third of the population dead or dying. We’ve tried locking the sick away in pesthouses,
stripping those who show signs of disease of their clothes and possessions and burning
them, and even quarantining them to an island in attempt to do something, anything, to stop
the spread, but nothing has seemed to work. The number of infected grows by the day and
the death count rises higher and higher. The plague is a true nightmare for those unlucky
enough to become stricken by it. Strange swellings appear on the body, especially
under the arms and around the groin, growing to the size of apples and weeping blood and
pus before erupting into painful sores. The body is then overcome with fever and chills,
the patient can keep no food down and is wasted away by diarrhea and vomiting. It can progress so quickly that there’s
nothing I can do. Often someone goes to sleep healthy with no
symptoms and is dead by morning. We are unsure of where the plague came from
or how it spreads. Some think it comes only from the touching
of an already infected individual, others believe that spirits jump from the eyes of
the sick into those of the healthy carrying the death with them. As for myself, I believe that a foul air,
known as miasma, carries this horrible malady. It’s also why my most important piece of
equipment is also the one that marks me most clearly as a plague doctor, my mask. Each day I fill the nose with fresh flowers
and herbs, using the pleasant smells to ward off the plague. I coat my clothes in a thick layer of suet,
or animal fat, in order to seal the fabric and prevent any bad airs from penetrating
to my skin. I focus on combating the odor that seems to
follow the sick and encouraging the healthy to stay well by staying indoors and surrounding
themselves with pleasant aromas. I employ other techniques on those who are
not yet at death’s door, such as bloodletting with leeches, or lancing the swollen boils
in an attempt to drain the sickness away, though I must take great care to ensure that
none of the potentially deadly fluids touch my skin. I am also cautious not to touch the sickest
of patients at all. My cane allows me to examine their bodies
from a distance, though when they are at that advanced stage usually all I can do is direct
the family to remove the body from the home when the patient eventually succumbs. Their bodies are added onto the carts that
patrol the streets daily. Stacked high with corpses, these carts are
dragged along by some poor soul who will no doubt be joining his cargo soon. They’re taken out of the city and given
a Christian burial if they are lucky and burned in great piles if they are not. Day after day I see more and more falling
victim to this plague. I dream of a day when we can return Venice
to its former glory. Where hundreds of trade ships passed through
our harbor and princes summoned the world’s most talented artists to create great works
to adorn their palaces. I fear those days are dead and gone and that
there is little anyone but God can do to stop this unending march of death. I make the long trek back to the section of
the city where my home is, an area that luckily has been largely untouched by the plague. On my way, I stop to pray to Saint Mary of
Health at the new Basilica that is being built in her honor, in hopes that more offerings
to God will end this catastrophe and perhaps serve as a penance for whatever of our worldly
deeds have brought this biblical punishment upon us. The day grows long and I feel very tired so
I make my way home. I take great care while removing my mask,
checking that there are no openings where the diseased air may have seeped in. I lay out my roll of tools so that they are
ready for another day of tending to the unwell. I carefully remove my coat, my breeches, and
am once again just a man. A man who sees that the day I’ve been dreading
yet always anticipating is here. I lift my arm and see it. A swollen lump. It’s now only a matter of time.

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