The Dark Days of History

A doctor's clothing
I knew it was coming. It was inevitable. The dark stuff of history had to be discussed at some point. As we worked chronologically we had already seen some things that were bad: wars, religious intolerance, and even some rulers that were just plain mean. Yet, I knew the bubonic plague would be different. We use The The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child: The Middle Ages  by Susan Bauer and I think it did a very good job at introducing this topic with enough seriousness so they can feel the reality of it while minimizing the gruesomeness. The stories of entire towns being lost and people dying in a matter of a day or two, stunned my wide-eyed, vaccinated innocents.

It wasn't long before my kids began to put some facts together. Call it bad timing, but the pets were due their flea and tick medicine about that time and my kids saw me giving them their doses. That night, my oldest asked me if she could get the plague from the cats who tend to sleep in her bed.

I told her that we have better medicines today and I didn't think there was any threat of the plague anymore. The look in her eye let me know I was going to have to prove it to her. I knew there were still rare cases because we happen to have a friend that works in wildlife and he says it is still out there. I won't lie to my kids about this, but I need to make sure they understand how low the threat actually is. Here are some of the things I found to try to satisfied her. National Geographic had this to say:

Plague still exists in various parts of the world. In 2003, more than 2,100 human cases and 180 deaths were recorded, nearly all of them in Africa. The last reported serious outbreak was in 2006 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa, when at least 50 people died. The United States, China, India, Vietnam, and Mongolia are among the other countries that have confirmed human plague cases in recent years.
Yes, she caught that last bit about the US too. My kids tend to think of any threat as a huge one so I really wanted to focus on how it isn't nearly as fatal now. According to Time and a Health Report for infectious diseases in New Mexico, the facts are:
  • We don't live in the areas commonly effected (New Mexico has the most cases) 
  • When antibiotics are given in time, most people are just fine. 
  • Even in the most predominant areas, the number of cases is very low. 
Finally, I just looked them in the eye and said that even though it is very, very rare, it is still serious. I told them that the symptoms of enlarged lymph nodes often calls for rounds of antibiotics, which is exactly what is needed for the plague. And, lastly, I told them that if it weren't rare, we wouldn't have even had to have looked it up in the first place because we would have known people who had had it. They were finally satisfied and asked to play Fling your teacher  again. (Warning! this game actually ties up and flings a teacher who ends up quite scratched up once you've answered enough questions about the plague correctly. My son can't get enough!)

Well, I'm glad that's over. Next up, a cheery little tale about a girl name Joan of Arc. Hope the husband doesn't suggest roasting marshmallows at the fire pit that evening. 

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