One look at Paul Gaylord's hands shows why the plague is referred to as "Black Death." The 59-year-old contracted the plague after trying to take a mouse from the jaws of a choking cat, which then bit him. Now the Oregon welder's once-strong hands have been withered by the cell-killing infection and darkened to the color of charcoal. Doctors are waiting to see if they can save a portion of his fingers, but the outlook is grim for the man who needs them for his livelihood.
"I don't think I can do my job," Gaylord says from a Bend, Ore., hospital. "I'm going to lose all my fingers on both hands. I don't know about my thumbs. The toes—I might lose all them, too." He faces a difficult recovery now that he's out of intensive care, following a month spent on life support. His family is trying to raise money to get him into a new house, because the manufactured home he was living in has a leaky roof, a moldy bathroom, and mice—dangerous living conditions for a man with a weakened immune system. "We didn't even know the plague was around anymore," says sister Diana Gaylord. "We thought that was an ancient, ancient disease."