Furst, Paul (German, 1608-1666)

Doktor Schnabel von Rom (Doctor Beak of Rome)

Reference Type:
The first description of a plague mask dates from the 1600s, written by Charles de Lorme, chief physician to King Louis XIII of France: “The nose [is] half a foot long, shaped like a beak, filled with perfume with only two holes, one on each side near the nostrils, but that can suffice to breathe and carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the [herbs] enclosed further along in the beak. Under the coat we wear boots made in Moroccan leather (goat leather) from the front of the breeches in smooth skin that are attached to said boots, and a short sleeved blouse in smooth skin, the bottom of which is tucked into the breeches. The hat and gloves are also made of the same skin…with spectacles over the eyes.” (Source: http://thechirurgeonsapprentice.com/2012/03/13/behind-the-mask-the-plague-doctor/ ) Although germ theory did not yet exist, de Lorme was trying to protect himself from the dangers of poisonous air and toxins. The herbs would purify the air he breathed, and the clothing protect his skin from physical contact with contaminants. The cane was less to assist in walking than to keep infected people at bay and guide others how to move them during exams. The hat was traditionally worn by physicians, so is not specific to the plague garb. Plague doctors were hired by towns to treat their citizens during epidemics. Often they were not professionally trained doctors, young physicians trying to establish a practice, or second-rate doctors who had failed in setting up a practice. As city employees, they treated sufferers of all social classes. Community plague doctors were extremely valued—for example, in 1650, two plague doctors from Barcelona were captured by outlaws, who received a substantial ransom for their return. They were also given special privileges, which included bodies to autopsy—although dissection was for the most part forbidden in medieval Europe, exceptions were made in an effort to find a cure for the plague. Plague doctors also witnessed wills and gave advice to patients. They did not for the most part interact with the general public for fear of spreading infection and were often quarantined. One of the most famous plague doctors was Nostradamus (1503-1566), who treated victims throughout Italy and France. After practicing as an apothecary, he entered the University of Montpellier with the goal of a doctorate in medicine, but was expelled when his career as an apothecary was discovered since it was seen as a “manual” trade that was banned by the laws of the university. He went back to being an apothecary and developed a reputation as a successful plague doctor. He argued against bleeding patients, encouraged good hygiene, advocated for removal of corpses from the streets, and was known for his creation of a “rose pill” made primarily of rose hips, which are rich in vitamin C and helped patients with mild cases. His cure rate was higher than most, primarily through hygiene, low-fat diets, and fresh air. Notes by Mariann Smith
History of Medicine
Infectious Disease