Who Were The Plague Doctors And Why Did They Wear Masks?

The Coronavirus reminds us of the Plague. The Plague Doctor is a profession which derived from the disaster. But who are Plague doctors? Why did they wear masks?

Plague Mask

In today’s time, the plague doctor mask is a common sight at carnivals. Especially the Venetian Carnival which is held annually at Venice, Italy. You also find the replicas of the mask in many costume shops around the globe. People wear the mask to dress up as the Plague Doctor for Halloween, but not many know about its grim history.

The Plague mask which was originally created to cure death instead became a symbol of death itself. Although the plague ravaged Europe in the 14th century, this mask wasn’t invented till the 17th century by Charles de Lorme who was the chief physician to Louis XIII

The nose of the mask was half a foot long and shaped like a beak. It was typically stuffed with herbs, straw and spices such as juniper berries, lemon balm, mint, camphor etc. The doctors believed that the Black Death spread due to miasma which are poisonous vapors associated with decomposition and foul air and thus wore the mask so that they would not breathe in the bad air and get infected.

The Plague Doctor dressed in a long black cloak covered with a coating of X boots made of Moroccan leather and wore breeches and gloves to ensure that their skin was not exposed to the miasma at any time.

The eyes of the mask were also made out of the glass as it was believed that the sickness could be caught through face-to-face contact with patients or by touching infected objects. They would carry a wooden cane that was used to examine patients without touching them.

In certain European cities, Plague Doctors were requested to do autopsies to help determine the cause of death and how the play clay departs.

The Plague doctors usually were not actual physicians or surgeons as they were second-rate doctors who were in professionally trained and neither had any significant medical experiences. These plague doctors rarely cured their patients rather they would count the number of people contaminated for demographic purposes.

Plague doctors practice bloodletting and other remedies such as putting frogs or leeches on the bodies of their patients who rebalance the humors as a normal routine. Even after taking so many precautions, the plague doctors would still get infected and only a handful would survive. Most plague doctors fled the city during outbreaks, leaving the dying to fend for themselves. Those who did remain behind rarely mentioned it in their writings. Thus, making the plague mask all the more elusive to historians.

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