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08-01-2011, 07:20 AM
lchemy, considered as medicine at that time, was used by most of the physicians for treating ailments. Its practice, however, slowly began to wane as the citizens realized that it rarely checked the spread of the epidemic and that some of the potions and cures used by many alchemists only made the condition of the sick worse. Liquor made by alchemists was liberally prescribed as a remedy for the Black Death, leading to a steep rise in the consumption of liquor in Europe after the plague. The Church also tried to meet the medical needs of the victims. The duties of doctors attending plague victims consisted mostly of visits to victims to verify whether they had been afflicted or not. Existing records of contracts drawn up between cities and plague doctors show that they enjoyed considerable freedom of action plus heavy financial compensation, having regard to the risk of death to which they exposed themselves. Most of them were volunteers, because trained physicians by then had already fled, realising that they could do nothing for the relief of the victims. The attire of the plague doctor resmbled somewhat the protective suit of personnel trained in handling hazardous materials nowadays and consisted of:

A black hat with wide brim placed tightly over the head. It was a partial shield from infection and identified the wearer as a doctor.

A sort of gas mask in the shape of a bird's beak because birds were believed to be carriers of plague. It was believed that by dressing in a bird-like mask, the wearer could draw the plague away from the patient and onto the garment the plague doctor wore. Red glass eyepieces in the mask were thought to make the wearer impervious to evil while the beak of the mask was filled with strongly aromatic herbs and spices to overpower the miasma or bad air thought to be carrying the plague. It also served the dual purpose of dulling the smell of unburied corpses, sputum and ruptured buboes in plague victims.

A long black overcoat, which was tucked in behind the beak mask at the neckline to minimize skin exposure. Hanging down to the feet, the overcoat was coated from head to toe in solid fat (suet) or wax with the thought that the plague could be drawn away from the flesh of the infected victim and either trapped by the suet, or repelled by the wax. The coating also made this outer cover moistureproof (blood, pus, sputum and so on).


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