by Kat Otis
Marchesa Barbara Gonzaga of Mantua minced her way across the sickroom in foot-high platform shoes. As I had already treated several broken ankles resulting from such fashionable footwear, I was duly impressed by this skilled display. However, I was not nearly as impressed by the bouquet of lavenders she held superstitiously close to her face. Flowers might help offset the foul stench of her dying husband, but they did nothing to protect against plague.
"How fares he?" Barbara lowered herself into the chair beside the blood-splattered bed and studied Ludovico's fever-stricken form. Though I detested the filth, there was no point in cleaning the bed; he would simply cough up more blood as soon as the task was complete.
"It is definitely plague." I expected Barbara to leap away from Ludovico, but my diagnosis seemingly made no impression on her. Perhaps I needed to be more blunt? "The margravio will be dead before morning."
"But I see no buboes." Barbara brushed back Ludovico's sweat-soaked hair to reveal his unblemished neck. I cringed--direct contact with the infected was extremely dangerous. "And plague takes days to kill."
"Not always. When it begins with coughing, it kills faster and without buboes."
She looked up, a frown marring her brow. "Then what have you done for him, if there are no buboes to lance?"
I suppressed my annoyance at being questioned as if I were some ignorant surgeon and not a physician who had earned my degree at the University of Padua itself. No matter the provocation, one did not speak sharply to a marchesa. "I have let blood several times, to balance his humors."
"A treatment that does not appear to be working," Barbara said, dryly. "Have you considered trying anything else?"
From her tone, I suspected she already had something particular in mind. "Such as?"
"When my husband was a condottiero, he saw many soldiers healed by the use of weapon salves."
It took great effort, but I managed to keep my voice neutral. "By which you mean the application of medicines to the weapon which created a wound, as opposed to the wound itself? I have heard of such--" I wracked my mind for the proper words; it would never do to call her a superstitious fool, desperately grasping at straws to avoid the truth before us. "--unusual treatments. I cannot see how they would be of use here."
"Can you not? If a sympathy can be created between weapon and wound, how else might sympathies be used in the practice of medicine?"