Thursday, 29 December 2016

Q Is For Quarantine

Unfortunately the family has been hit by sickness this week, right, left and centre. Coughs, asthma, DIY injuries - and worst of all, Steph and Bob have been laid low by the novovirus.
Plans for weekend get-togethers are all on hold, and I am praying that Rosie escapes anything nasty. It is hard enough being ill in your 30s or 60s - worse when your age is still measured in months not years.
Much as I admire Florence Nightingale, the only traits we truly share are those of mathematics enthusiasts and fondness for pie charts. I am not a particularly good sick nurse. But I love them and I do my best [ 3am is not the optimum time for me to dispense sickbowls, glasses of water and TLC] I am thinking of getting out the sewing machine and running up a costume for myself.
These Plague Doctor Costumes look scary but there was a lot of sense behind them, at a time when germs and infection were not properly understood. In the 17th century, it was believed that illness was transmitted by bad smells [the miasma theory] a French physician, Charles De Lorme designed this outfit.
The hat is simply the badge of the physician - you knew where someone fitted into society by their headgear - royalty had crowns, soldiers helmets, nuns wore coifs, and medics had silk hats.
The robe is sewn from leather or oilcloth to make it waterproof so nasty liquids, blood or whatever could not leach through onto the doctors skin. Underneath they usually wore a simple cotton robe.
The cane was used to indicate things or move clothing so that the doctor did not have to touch the patient and could keep his distance.
The doctor wore gloves for his hands, round spectacles to protect his eyes - and most importantly the beaked mask. This was made of bone, and the tip was a primitive respirator, filled with mint, spices and aromatics, camphor, dried roses and carnations, and a vinegar sponge. Lorme wrote that the mask had a "nose 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 to carry along with the air one breathes the impression of the drugs enclosed further along in the beak"  A poem of the time says
As may be seen on picture here,
In Rome the doctors do appear,
When to their patients they are called,
In places by the plague appalled,
Their hats and cloaks, of fashion new,
Are made of oilcloth, dark of hue,
Their caps with glasses are designed,
Their bills with antidotes all lined,
That foulsome air may do no harm,
Nor cause the doctor man alarm,
The staff in hand must serve to show
Their noble trade where'er they go
The sight of a man like this [always men!] on the streets put the fear of death into people [understandably] and he was often nicknamed 'Dr Beaky'. Nowadays men [and women] put on HazMat suits - which embody many of the same principles [waterproof, respirator, eye protection, gloves etc]
Getting back to quarantine - the word comes from 'quarantine sanitaire' - the enforced 40 days of isolation of a ship before passengers could go ashore during the time of the Black Death.
In the system of maritime signal flags, plain yellow indicated the letter Q - hence this choice of colour for a warning flag. Nowadays ships fly a black and yellow flag if there is disease on board, and a plain yellow flag indicates they believe themselves free of illness and are requesting an inspection and clearance to disembark.
The wisdom of separation during illness has been recognised since Old Testament times [see the book of Leviticus] and the  people of Eyam back in 1665 probably saved many lives by their self sacrificial actions. Typhoid Mary, however went about spreading germs willy-nilly [not that I am happy about her subsequent treatment by the NY authorities]

For lots of different 2016 has not been the best year - both in the world outside, and here inside the family. But perhaps when we re-emerge in 2017, things will look brighter. 
Q may be for Quarantine - but it is also the beginning of a long queue of other words. In the year ahead, perhaps I should 
  • avoid questionable quackery
  • shun quaking, quailing and quandraries
  • admire quiet queenliness
  • maybe eat quahogs, quiches and quenelles [or not!]
  • prefer quilting to quibbling or quarrelling
  • quaff quinine when queasy
  • watch quizzes like QI [but not Question of Sport]
  • maintain a quintessentially quotidian blog

What is your best Q word? I do hope that you and your families have kept well over this festive season.


  1. So sorry to hear that you and the family have been struck down. No one seems to have avoided one or more of the nasty bugs going round. Take care of yourself, and get that charming costume on quickly.

  2. I'll never manage quotidien- I'm aiming for hebdomadaire in the new year! Quarantine here too. Bugs galore. PC remains healthy, though. Thankfully for the feeding of those who do not! Hope you'll all be very well very soon x

  3. Hope everyone is on the mend soon and that the baby stays well!

  4. Quinquireme (of Ninevah fame in Masefield's poem Cargoes) is a wonderful sounding word although I doubt the rowers (probably Roman slaves?) would have agreed! Hope the family is quite recovered for the weekend. Vicki

    1. Thanks Vickiey, I like quinquireme too, and it's a great poem. I just couldn't fit that Qword in.

  5. So sorry to hear that the family are ill! Hope everyone feels better and 2017 will be a good year, health-wise.

  6. 10pm happy to report there has been no sign of norovirus for 40 hrs, and both Steph Bob eating well again. Liz and I still coughing though. Rosie remains well. Thanks for all the get well wishes

  7. QUAINT and QUAGMIRE are my best contributions! So sorry you've been beset with illness but I love the blog post it promoted


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