Inside the Job of a Medieval Plague Doctor
Tue, April 20, 2021

Inside the Job of a Medieval Plague Doctor

 

Also known as the Great Plague, the Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. An estimated 75 to 200 million people in Europe died because of it. Due to the worsening deadly epidemic, the people were desperate to hire doctors. This is where the medieval plague doctors came in. 

 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

According to All That’s Interesting, a site for curious people who want to know more about what they see on the news or read in history books, a plague doctor’s main responsibility was not to treat or cure patients. Instead, they were tasked to keep track of the casualties of the Black Death. They witnessed wills for the dead and dying and assisted in the occasional autopsy. Most of the time, plague doctors were second-rate physicians, young physicians with limited experience, or people who had no certified medical training at all.

 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

During the 17th century, physicians believed that the pandemic was spread through foul-smelling air. Thus, medieval plague doctors had to wear a variety of protective suits. In 1916, Charles de l’Orme, the chief physician to Louis XIII, invented a “uniform” that would keep them safe. He designed it using a waxed leather coat, leggings, boots, and gloves intended to deflect miasmas from head to toe. They also carried a long wooden stick used for communicating with the patients. 

 

Photo Credit: Flickr

 

“The nose [is] half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume… Under the coat, we wear boots made in Moroccan leather (goat leather)…and a short-sleeved blouse in smooth skin…The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin…with spectacles over the eyes,” de l’Orme wrote. 

Since the plague doctors weren’t knowledgeable with the pandemic and lacked training, many of them resorted to some dubious, dangerous, and debilitating treatments. For instance, they practiced covering pus-filled cysts the size of an egg found on the neck, armpits, and groin called buboes in human excrement. They also participated in bloodletting and lancing the buboes to drain the pus. 

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