Student looks back on brush with plague


Micah Maynard, Staff Writer

The plague, or yersinia pestis, was a deadly and devastating disease that swept across Europe in the 1300s, killing more than a third of all the people on the continent. Nicknamed the infamous “Black Death,” it is still a sickness that can strike today. Eighth grade student Millie Nottingham experienced it first-hand.

“Yersinia is a bacterium that rodents carry,” Nottingham said. “The bacteria enter your body through an opening in the skin and slowly grow.”

The plague first originated in the Gobi Desert. It spread to China, and then found its way into European lands, where it dealt the most damage.

The plague is a rare disease, but it still occurs all around the world. According to the website “Live Science” the World Health Organization reports between 1,000 and 3,000 cases of plague worldwide every year.

“The chances of getting the bubonic plague is a rare, 1 in 3 million,” Nottingham said.

Even though the illness is uncommon, it can still happen anywhere.

“I was at a Dobyns-Bennett homecoming football game when a bat pooped on my head,” Nottingham said. “When I washed my hair that night, the doctors said I could have just barely picked my scalp which is where the bacteria started growing.”

Nottingham suffered many symptoms from the plague. Her mom, Crystal Nottingham, will never forget what her daughter experienced.

“The last day of fall break, she started running a fever,” she said. “She became lethargic and her neck became stiff and swollen.”

After Millie developed these symptoms, she was rushed to the hospital.

“HMG told us to take her straight to Niswonger and do not stop,” Crystal Nottingham said. “Niswonger stocked a wide variety of antibiotics.”

The fact that Nottingham had the plague was not discovered until after a few days into her stay at the hospital.

“There were only five antibiotics that would cure it and I was allergic to three of them,” Nottingham said.

Her hospital stay lasted for eleven stressful and worrisome days.

“When I was in the hospital, I was scared because I didn’t really know what was happening to me, but I wasn’t lonely,” Nottingham said “Family, friends, nurses and church members kept me company.”

Everyone was shocked when they learned that Nottingham had been infected with yersinia pestis. Still, many people helped her through this sickness with encouragement and company.

“The D.B. football players were so sweet to her,” Crystal Nottingham said. “Two players bought her a D.B. jersey with her name on it and everybody had signed it.”

Nottingham’s friends were also very encouraging.

“My classmates were so nice with get well cards and writing me a song,” she said.

While in the hospital, she was worried, not just for herself, but for her family, as well.

“For my family, it was very hard for them,” she said. “They were in disbelief and shock. They had no idea what would happen or if there was an antibiotic that would treat me. There was also a lot of confusion. I had no idea of what the bubonic plague was. At the time, I was so young and didn’t understand the plague.”

Finally, however, she managed to overcome the sickness. She had endured eleven hard days in the hospital, yet over time, the treatments finally fought off the disease. Nottingham was completely healed.

“I do have a few ‘battle scars’,” she said. “On the top of my scalp, I have the scar where my bat poop was. I have a really small scratch-like scar on my neck glands from where they swelled up as big as a golf ball.”

Nottingham’s mother will never forget the ordeal her daughter had to overcome.

“It was a nightmare; literally a huge blur,” she said. “My God, family, church and friends got me through it. At times I thought she would die, so I prayed and prayed. Lots of people were praying.”

The plague, although not as common as it used to be during the Middle Ages, is still a disease that anyone can get.

“For avoiding the plague, you need to not touch road kill, rodents, dead animals, or anything that can carry diseases,” Nottingham said. “When you go to football games, wear a hat to protect your head.”

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