One of the things that drove me nuts about the show "Jericho" was that they got so many little things wrong. The people didn't look dirty or hungry enough, for one thing - and illnesses that we no longer think about would come back with a vengeance - things like Cholera and Dysentery, for instance, and Scurvy.
In any event, I was listening to a podcast that hit on that yesterday - Dan Carlin's "Hardcore History" talked about the Black Death as a way of understanding what a post apocalyptic time would look like. It's really hard to conceive of just how bad things were - England's population dropped from 6-7 million down to 2 million between 1348-1400, for instance. Just imagine what modern life would look like under such a death toll - we might even do worse than they did, since medieval people fed themselves from local supplies.
To get a feel for it, consider this chronicle passage by John Clyne, who lived through the plague in Ireland (from Wikipedia):
That disease entirely stripped vills, cities, castles and towns of inhabitaints of men, so that scarcely anyone would be able to live in them. The plague was so contagious that thous touching the dead or even the sick were immediately infected and died, and the one confessing and the confessor were together led to the grave ... many died from carbuncles and from ulcers and pustles that could be seen on shins and under the armpits; some died, as if in a frenzy, from pain of the head, others from spitting blood ... In the convent of Minors of Drogheda, twenty five, and in Dublin in the same order, twenty three died ... These cities of Dublin and Drogheda were almost destroyed and wasted of inhabitants and men so that in Dublin alone, from the beginning of August right up to Christmas, fourteen thousand men (i.e., people) died ... The pestilence gathered strength in Kilkenny during Lent, for between Christmas day and 6 March, eight Friars Preachers died. There was scarcely a house in which only one died but commonly man and wife with their children and family going one way, namely, crossing to death."
The plague had so many far reaching effects, including a number of peasant revolts after the first wave had passed. There were also large population movements - throughout Europe, people blamed Jews for the plague (people always love a scapegoat) - and many Jews resettled in Poland (across what is now Poland, the Baltics, Eastern Russia, and other parts of Eastern Europe). That community is now gone, due to the Holocaust - but the original movement there was an echo of the Black Death. I'm sure that none of the people who fled there in the 1400's could possibly have conceived of something worse.
Here's what I take away from all this - we have it pretty good now. The next time someone complains to you about how hard they have it, ponder the 14th century for a moment.