(Detail of Grünewald's Isenheim Altarpiece showing evidence of ergotism on some unlucky guy's feet)
Strange diets, putrid food, and a generally lower resistance to disease also produced a great many hard human deaths. Of ergotism, which seems to have been especially common, one English monk write, "It is a dysentary-type illness, contracted on account of spoiled food... from which follow[s] a throat ailment or acute fever." However, this description does not do justice to the full horrors of ergotism, which was called St. Anthony's fire in the Middle Ages. First, the ergot fungus, a by-product of moldy wheat, attacks the muscular system, inducing painful spasms, then the circulatory system, interrupting blood flow and causing gangrene. Eventually the victim's arms and legs blacken, decay and fall off; LSD-like hallucinations are also common. If the Irish Famine of 1847 is a reliable indicator, vitamin deficiencies were also rife. Between 1315 and 1322, when the rain finally stopped, many people must have become demented from pellagra (niacin deficiency) or been blinded by xerophthalmia (a vitamin A deficiency). Typhus epidemics may have killed many thousands more.(62)
On the meanest of medieval streets, the ambience of the barnyard gave way to the ambience of the battlefield. Often, animals were abandoned where they fell, left to boil in the summer sun, to be picked over by rats and ransacked by neighborhood children, who yanked bones from decaying oxen and cows and carved them into dice. The municipal dog catcher, who rarely picked up after a dog cull (kill), and the surgeon barber, who rarely poured his patients' blood anywhere except on the street in front of the shop, also contributed to the squalid morning-after-battle atmosphere.(69)
Along with the dog catcher and surgeon barber, Rattus's other great urban ally was the medieval butcher. In Paris, London, and other large towns, animals were slaughtered outdoors on the street, and since butchers rarely picked up after themselves either, in most cities the butchers' district was a Goya-esque horror of animal remains. Rivers of blood seeped into nearby gardens and parks, and piles of hearts, livers, and intestines accumulated under the butchers' bloody boots, attracting swarms of rats, flies, and street urchins.
That and this from 1998,
Americans Don't Have a Clue
Imagine downtown Los Angeles, New York or Washington, where 100,000 inhabitants, from garbage collectors to CEOs, in kindergarten classes to nursing homes, suddenly and without warning begin drowning in their own bodily fluids or suffocating on swollen tongues as mucus pours from every orifice, even while windpipes and blood vessels constrict, stopping the flow of air and blood. People in the streets and their homes convulsing so violently that internal organs are displaced and then shut down in terrifying manifestations of agony.
But, you know, don't be blue. It can't be all that bad, right?