Plague Doctor
Then and Now

This is the backstory. Years ago, after college and graduate school, I went to Scotland for many reasons. I love shortbread, oatmeal, leg of lamb, and haggis. Between eating, I would attend classes at New College at the University of Edinburgh. However, my traveling to my great grandparents homeland allowed me to see a world, one larger than I imagined. In the half century since going to Edinburgh, I have traveled to many countries to go to school or to teach.

On my first sojourn to Europe, I went to Vienna, Austria to see the site including the wine cellars. However, I also went to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Having taught art history, it is a must site. Nevertheless, St. Stephen’s has an extremely morbid history. Many centuries ago, during the Black Plague or the Bubonic Plague ravaged Europe killing 75-200,000,000 people between 1347-1351.

Today, as we are dealing with the coronavirus, so many are dying that they are storing the dead bodies in refrigerated trailer trucks. Back in the mid-14th century, the wealthiest people were buried in the catacombs or crypts under the churches.

St. Stephen’s was one of the hundreds of churches in Europe that were used for burial sites. Over the years, as the piles of dead bodies rotted away, various people would arrange the bones in a morbid artistic way.

An artsy presentation

The artist left his job unfinished.

I took a tour of the quasi-burial sites under St. Stephen’s. After an hour walking around in the basement, I walked outside the cathedral. At the end of the street next to the church, I found an old man with an equally old leather suitcase. Both the guy and his suitcase were wrinkle and worn. He asked me if I wanted to buy some old treasures. Surely, he had seen me leave the cathedral.

I asked him what he had for sale. After he showed me some old brooches and other things, he knew that I wasn’t going to buy anything. As I was about to leave, he said, “Would you be interested a plague doctor’s mask?” Before I could respond, he pulled out his treasure. As I looked at the mask, he told me about the plague doctors. While I was fully aware of these masks and using them, it was interesting to listen to a local recount the story. His presentation seemed like he had seen them walking around Vienna over a half millennia ago.

I don’t recall how much I paid for my mask. I guess that is was about $100, but in today’s money, it would be $500 or $600. Regardless, I acquire things that hardly any other person would even consider buying. I took it back my hotel and cleaned of the dirt and grim over many years. Over the years since the late 60s, I will find it packed away amid other acquisitions that I had gotten.

Little did I know that, on April 4, 2020, my plague doctor’s mask would be truly invaluable. The coronavirus task force in Washington suggested that Americans should wear masks when out in public. Donald the Dumb, our fake president, won’t be bothered. You know, what would it look like that our macho president was wearing a mask?

I don’t mind wearing masks, but I can’t find Wet Ones, which are antiseptic little tissues that will kill the coronavirus. Therefore, my wanting to get a box of face masks seems like a pipe dream while thousands of medical people can’t get them along with gloves and other personal protective equipment (PPE).

Then I remembered my plague doctor’s mask. Centuries ago, plague doctors used a concoction flowers like dried roses, spices, and other items that are readily smelled by the wearing of the mask. It was a medical potion that would help the plague doctor from smelling miasma or bad air. Miasma comes from the Greek word miasma or μίασμα. The word means pollution or bad air. Miasma was the cause of the plague, so they thought.

I came up with a similar concoction. I took some cinnamon tea and mixed it with some Royal Myanmar Tea Mix, which Moh Moh gave me while in Myanmar on my last trip during winter break. I drink that mixture almost every day. It reminds me of my family. To hold my potion together, I add a bit of honey, which I do with my morning tea concoction. If that doesn’t work, I’ll test Moh Moh’s mother gift of a special coffee mix when I left them a couple of months ago. Ko Ko’s mother also gave me another type of coffee mix, which I will use as a safeguard if all use fails.

When I go out to walk Ginger, I wear my plague doctor’s mask.

Ginger likes my new look.

However, a wear it while teaching online. I don’t want to pick out the coronavirus over the Internet. However, the protective glass in the eyes aren’t bifocals. It is really difficult to either to write or teach online.

We are living in the new normal even though Trump said, on January 22, 2020 in an interview with Joe Kernen of CNBC, that “…we have it totally under control. It is one person coming from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” While Trump is catching up with the new normal much of which was due to his delays, I would allow him to use my plague doctor’s mask.

This is an interesting video addressing the history of the plague doctors.