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  • 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.

The year is 1631.

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Actual Life of Black Death Doctors

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