Nicolai Ordahl’s account of the Pleiestiftelsen Hospital in 1898

At the age of 17, Nicolai Aardahl (later Ordahl) was employed as a cup setter at the Pleiestiftelsen Hospital in Bergen in 1898. He worked there for one year before moving to America. At that time, Pleiestiftelsen was Norway’s leading leprosy hospital with over 100 patients, and was under the direction of the physician H. P. Lie. 

Nicolai Ordahl after he moved to America.
The photograph belongs to his granddaughter, Enid Gjelten Weichselbaum.

After visiting Bergen and Pleiestiftelsen some 60 years later in 1964, Ordahl decided to document his memories and experiences. Han var da midt i 80-årene og blind, men skrev likevel på skrivemaskin.

Ordahl during his visit to Norway in 1964.
The photograph belongs to Enid Gjelten Weichselbaum.

About the account
After a brief description of his visit in 1964, Ordahl describes what it was like to work and stay at the hospital in 1898. The account provides a vivid picture of everyday life at the hospital, and gives a fantastic insight into routines, work, colleagues and patients.

For the first three weeks, he was trained by working alongside the hospital’s former cup setter. Despite the title, he was first and foremost a kind of assistant to Lie and the other physicians. Blood-letting and cupping were considered old-fashioned, and were no longer used to any real extent. One of his duties was to assist Dr Lie during autopsies, both in the hospital and elsewhere.

Ordahl describes how Dr Hans Peter Lie was the hospital’s absolute authority. He would accompany Lie and the superintendent on the patient rounds. The rooms and the patients were cleaned for the inspection and Lie spoke pleasantly to all the patients. Occasionally a patient had to be bandaged and have open wounds treated with iodoform powder, an agent used to disinfect wounds. Ordahl also gives a detailed description of how they made turpentine ointments and plasters in the kitchen in the cellar.

Every day they went to Svaneapoteket apothecary (‘Lothes’s Apothek’) to collect medicine, and they occasionally went to the abattoir to buy plasma from cow’s blood to make serum. Both Armauer Hansen and Dr Loennecken used such serums to grow the bacterial cultures they studied under a microscope, and Ordahl gives a thorough account of how they went about this.

The account also contains a number of small episodes from everyday life at the hospital. Ordahl describes visits from foreign physicians, both German and English, and the people who visited patients. He tells about the skilled and efficient porter who actually had leprosy himself. He was once sent into town by Mrs. Lie to buy tickets to an Edvard Grieg concert, and saw Grieg in a green coat. On another occasion, he was sent to buy tobacco for Armauer Hansen, but was given the wrong type by the tobacconist – he was given the tobacco for Armauer Hansen’s brother, the physician Klaus Hanssen.

Read the account
Ordahl’s descendants Enid Weichselbaum and Tom Gjelten have kindly given us permission to reproduce Nicolai Ordahl’s memoirs and memories from his time at Pleiestiftelsen. Enid has transcribed the old manuscript, which was faded and difficult to read.

The only page remaining from the original typewritten manuscript.

Experiences and Memories from Pleiestiftelsen for Spedalske No. 1
Bergen, Norway, 1898-1899

 By Nicolai Ordahl

Dedicated to the fond memory of Dr. Hans Peter Lie
Laege og Bestyrer (Doctor and Director)

 

Foreword

        Why was there so much leprosy in Norway, where there was a good and wholesome climate, and fairly good living conditions?

         One associates leprosy with warm countries, but here on the west coast of Norway, where the ocean breezes constantly blow, and the frequent and copious rains wash the earth, leprosy’s paralyzing and mutilating curse touched many people and eventually the government realized the necessity to isolate these unfortunates in order to save many others from the curse of leprosy, and so Pleiestiftelsen no. 1 was built in Bergen and not in Trondhjem.  Whether or not No 2 in Trondhjem was in operation when I came to Bergen, or whether there were others in the other cities, I do not know.

         The popular opinion that leprosy was caused by stale and partially decayed fish, which would account for the prevalence of the disease on the coast evidently must be discarded, for where would the fish that came out of the ocean get it? More likely it was the contaminated visitors from other lands, or Norway’s own seafaring men, had been exposed to it in other lands and had brought it to Norway’s shores. Naturally it would spread inland from the west coast, for men who did not live too far away from the coast went there for the spring herring catch and had contact in that manner with the coastal population.

         When I first came to Pleiestiftelsen, Dr. Lie told me about a man from our community of Aardal, who had been diagnosed a leper, but that he had escaped to America before being incarcerated at the institution. He name was Zakarias Aardal. He acquired a homestead and settled with his family 15 miles west of Edinburg, N.D. When I came to Edinburg in 1917 to be cashier of the State Bank of Edinburg, I came in contact with the family who were normal and uncontaminated people. Leprosy is not inherited, and infection takes place only by personal contact with the affected parts. The father had built a separate log cabin in which he lived alone, He was ministered to by his wife and family, and was thus able to be near his family, and presumably preferred it to being in an institution like Pleiestiftelsen. However, one must shudder at the thought of the loneliness and horror of dark and stormy winter nights in North Dakota and contrast this with the clean and warm rooms at Pleiestiftelsen, where there was efficient care by nurses and frequent visits by doctors.

         The idea to write “Experiences and Memories” was suggested by Dr. Rendal, now “Laege og Bestyrer” at the complex which was Pleiestiftelsen. Since the old patients had died and new ones were no longer coming in, the place was converted into a nursing home for disabled and retarded individuals. When I visited the institution in 1964, there were only two former leprosy patients there. They could have been discharged years ago, but having no other place to go, and place having been home to them for so many years, they were allowed to remain. The disease in them had been cured or arrested.

         On my visit to the institution, John Ostby was with me, and Dr. Rendal took us through the Armauer Hansen museum. The first objects to catch my eye were busts of Dr. Hansen and Dr. Danielssen. Dr. Danielssen was former “Laege og Bestyrer”. Though Dr. Hansen had fallen from grace, and from the exalted position he had held in the medical world, as well as among lay people, as the discoverer of the leper bacillus, it was for him that the museum was named, and not for Dr. Danielssen or Dr. Lie. That Dr. Hansen was held in great esteem throughout the world, testified to the by the many references I have found to his name, and the Hansen’s disease in English and American literature. Among the many things I saw at the museum was a framed copy, or perhaps the original, of the menu or regulations prescribing the meals, both for the patients and the serving personel. These regulations must be rigidly followed and there could be no deviation except by appeal to the highest authority, Dr. Lie, who was in supreme command.

         Climbing the stairs to the second story and the laboratory, I had the impression that the stairway was much narrower than it had been 68 years ago. But this of course was imagination. Outside the window, just off the stairway, I could see the frame that had held the thermometers from which I had read the temperature and humidity record for the newspaper. The frame was still there but the thermometers were gone. At the head of the stairs stood the tall, steel cabinet, which had contained the samples and experiments and the tubes of cultures, under which there was always a glass flame, which kept the temperature at the required level. Now it was cold, and had no doubt been so for a long time. Inside the laboratory the table and the counters with the gas burners and equipment were still in place exactly as I had known them to be so many years ago. On shelves in the laboratory were bottles and jars containing samples of the human anatomy, taken from bodies during post-mortem operations. Most prominent was a spinal cord which Dr. Lie had laboriously extracted from the vertebrae of a man outside of the hospital. Dr. Lie was often called to perform post-mortem operations in town. I remember this one distinctly. On each side of the vertebrae is a pocket containing a bundle of nerves, from which course of nerves proceed throughout the whole body. Dr. Lie extracted each bundle carefully, so that when the whole was accomplished he had a perfect sample of the spinal cord, from the thick end of it connected with the brain to the tapered off end of it at the bottom. He held it up to show it, rather triumphantly, I think.

         In the office behind the laboratory, Dr. Rendal showed instruments and equipment, prominent among which was the chest containing the many bloodletting machines, and with it the cups, and a dab of cotton and a small bottle of alcohol, apparently the same as it was the last time I had used it in a cup setting operation. It was probably never used since, for bloodletting was an age-old custom which eventually died out at the turn of the century.

         In Dr. Lie’s desk Dr. Rendal found his seal and he made an impression of it on a piece of paper which he handed to me for a souvenir.

         I left Dr. Rendal’s office readily promising to write “Experiences and Memories.” But promising is easier than performance. The choice of language was a consideration. Dr. Rendal said it would make no difference whether my story was in English or Norwegian. My Norwegian dated back to Jensen’s Læsebok for Børn, and Seip’s Grammar. Since those days, the Norwegian language has undergone drastic changes and I had not kept abreast. Meanwhile the English had remained unchanged. My handicap of blindness made it necessary for me to have and English-speaking person close at hand while writing and this was not easily accomplished while in Norway, and so weeks and months went by before the project was undertaken.

         I acknowledge gratefully the help and assistance of my daughter, Sylvia Thompson, whose patience and forbearance and help with spelling and punctuation had been of great assistance to me.

         I also acknowledge gratefully the services of my nephew-in-law, Mr. John Ostby, who introduced me to Dr. Rendal, and accompanied us through the Armauer Hansen Museum.

 

Warren, Minnesota
July 1966

 

Experiences and Memories
At Pleiestiftelsen for Spedalske No. 1
Bergen, Norway
1898-1899

          Doctors Hansen, Lie and Loennecken ruled the institution in Bergen, known as Pleiestiftelsen for Spedalske in 1898, when I was presented to Dr. Lie as a candidate for the position as Cupsetter, to fill the position to be vacated by A. E. Stromsholm on April 1st.

         Dr. Lie, as Læge og Bestyrer, was really the head of the institution. Dr. Hansen had the title of Overlæge (head doctor), but really in name only. Dr. Loennecken was the assistant doctor.

         Dr. Armauer Hansen had recently lost his position as head of the institution because of an experiment he had performed on a young patient against her will, when he injected leper bacillæ into her eye. He had also lost his license to practice medicine, but to soften the sting of the degration, he had been allowed to retain the title of “Overlæge”, though it was an empty one. Dr. Lie was Læge og Bestyrer in all matters down to the most minor details of the breakfast menu and any employee could go over the head of Forvalter (manager) Lengemo and ask for bread for breakfast in place of the watery and saltless steamed porridge.  

         Mr. Jacob Ordal, my father’s friend, and my friend, to whom I had appealed for a position in Bergen, presented me to Dr. Lie, whose first comment was, “You are pretty little”. I was 17 years and a little more than 8 months, and I was not yet fully grown, and my education was meager.  The only schooling I had had above the common school in the country was a six months course at Fjordana’s Skole in Florø. However, Mr. Ordal’s prestige with Dr. Lie and perhaps the reluctance of better qualified persons to take on work in a leper hospital, decided Dr. Lie in my favor, and I was accepted, and ordered to report three weeks before April 1st. I was to receive three week’s training with Mr. Stromsholm, and I returned home for two weeks to await the time for my apprenticeship to begin. My father had given Kr. 5 (5 Norwegian Crowns) with which to pay my fare on the old coastal steamer (travelling) between Førde and Bergen. When I returned home, I made accounting of the balance. I had spent 50 ore (100 ore in 1 crown), which my father classified as unnecessary expenditure. Arrangements were made at home to make my clothing, a little more acceptable for city life and the day for departure soon came again, and my father gave up another Kr. 5 to pay my fare again and get along until pay day, for which I would have to wait 7 or 8 weeks. However, kroner as well as dollars, were more valuable those days than now, and I did not have much need for money.

         I remember the lights of the city impressed me when I first saw them from the deck of the ship. The city of Bergen was pretty small in 1898, but to me it seemed to be a very great city with lights everywhere and especially those up in the mountains were impressive. Most of the street lights were gas lights. There were (???) lights which made a loud hissing noise. The light bulb industry had hardly gotten under way yet.

         My step mother had advised me to to Dampesmuget No. 5, which was just behind Strandgaten (Strand Street), and a few steps from Torgalmenning (city fish and market). I think the lady, Mrs. Larson, was my stepmother’s aunt. I found the place readily where she and her family, her husband, Henrik Larsen, two boys and one girl, lived upstairs over a brandy shop. As I walked past the entrance to the brandy shop I heard an argument between the bartender and a customer. “I gave you ti (ten) kroner.” Said the customer. “No, it was a five”, said the bartender, and I was wondering if a short change artist was at work. Mrs. Larson allowed me to sleep on the floor of her kitchen. She had no other room in her limited quarters, which was partly used for a second-hand clothes shop, as well as for living quarters for five people.

         When I returned to Bergen in 1912, after 12 years in America, I sought out Dampesmuget No. 5 again and found Mrs. Larson, who was still there. I tried to present her with a gift of money to make up for her kindness to me during those early days in Bergen, but instead she presented me with a leg of lamb, well-smoked and salted and dried.  It was consumed by myself and fellow passengers on the boat back across the Atlantic. In 1916 that whole area was swept clean by the great fire, and I have found no trace of the Larsons on my subsequent visits to Bergen. Dr. Loennecken in a newspaper interview on his 95th birthday in February, 1966, said that the fire of 1916 was a good thing for Bergen, for it made it possible thereafter to widen the streets, which had been pretty narrow.

         I presented myself in Dr. Lie’s office, and to Mr. Stromsholm, whose living quarters were in the adjoining room which was also the apothek (pharmacy). His curtained-off bed was in a corner of the room. There was a large table in the center of the room, and the east wall had shelves on which there was a supply of medicines, jars and instruments. For three weeks I followed Mr. Stromsholm’s every footstep and watched his every move. There was a regular routine. When Dr. Lie put on his white frock, and Stromsholm put his arm into the handle of a metal basket, where there were instruments, cotton and bandages, and a pad of note paper on which to jot down instructions for medicines to be handed to the nurses, and accompanied by the Forvalter, or manager of the commissary and business office, we went on a tour of inspection and visit to the patients.

         The hospital had two wings, two storied, with a full basement underneath. On the side of the building there was the doctor’s office and the apothek and laboratory. There was a men’s side, while the women were in the opposite side. There was a connecting wing between the two which contained the commissary and bookkeeping department as well as the employees’ quarters. Their rooms were clean and nurses saw to it that the patients were clean and tidy for the inspections. Dr. Lie talked pleasantly to the patients and carried on conversations with the forvalter and the nurses. He would use caustic pencils to burn away proud flesh on sores, which evidently caused no pain, as there was no feeling in those crippled and misshapen hands and fingers.

         Occasionally there was bandaging to be done, and sprinkling on open sores of iodoform powder. The doctor’s inspections were sometimes interrupted by visits from employees, who wanted changes in their food from the schedule prescribed and other minor details, which the commissary or kitchen management was either powerless or unwilling to grant. Dr. Lie would turn to the forvalter and say “I guess we can let him have bread instead of porridge for breakfast,” and Langemo would take out his notebook and make memo of the change. Subsequently he would issue instructions to the kitchen for the change, but Dr. Lie was always the highest authority and in complete control.

         Early in my apprenticeship one of the women patients thought she needed bloodletting and I was to be taught the process which had given name to my position, “Cupsetter”. The medical profession had surely by this time come to the conclusion that bloodletting was old-fashioned and unnecessary, but the practice had been so general that it took the general public a hundred years to learn that bloodletting wasn’t necessary, and the blood wasn’t bad and didn’t cause aches and pains. On the contrary, blood transfusions were needed in many cases. But Dr. Lie, more perhaps to humor the patient, ordered Stromsholm and me to perform a cupsetting. The nurse was instructed to provide hot water and we brought the chest or case containing, perhaps a half dozen instruments of brass, each with a half dozen small steel cutters, which would make incisions in the skin. The steel cutters were controlled by a spring which was operated by a button, which released the spring and small cuts in the skin would show blood drops. A small dab of cotton soaked in alcohol would be lighted and put into the cup which when applied to the cut would cause suction. The fire in the glass would consume the oxygen the suction thus created would draw the blood to fill the little cup half full of blood. When the cup was removed and the cuts treated with alcohol there was no further bleeding. That the name, Cupsetter, for my job was obsolete, and the theory of bloodletting outmoded, was shown by the fact that this was the only time we performed such an operation during my stay at the institution. However a couple of people came to me from the outside with request to be bled on their legs which I performed for them after Dr. Lie had suggested that I do this for them. This was done for the modest fee of 10 øre per cup. One of these patients, a young man protested loudly because of the enormity of the fee, and handed me 10 øre with a promise to pay the balance later, which of course he never did. I did not inquire how these people learned that I would perform this operation, but it is possible the Dr. Lie, who had a private practice outside of the hospital, had sent them to me.

         Another method of bloodletting was by use of leeches. Dr. Loenecken, who had private practice besides being the assistant to Dr. Lie, asked me to go to one of his patients one day, and bleed the man under his ear by the use of leeches. I obtained two of them at the drug store and carried them in a jar of water to the patient’s home, where they were allowed to fasten themselves to his skin immediately behind the ear. They gorged themselves and when they were full of blood they released their hold and fell off and were put into a glass of salt water where they regurgitated all of the blood. This process must have been very painful to the leeches for they subsequently died. In connection with this incident I remember that Dr. Loennecken found fault with me, because I did not collect my fee from the patient. He had a hard-enough time to collect his fee without also having to collect mine, but the fact was that I did not know what fee to charge and it was he who ordered the operation and in the end, he paid me Kr. 1,50.

         There was a regular daily routine to follow. The first thing was weather observation, temperature and wind direction. Outside the west window in the second story there were two thermometers, one for temperature reading and one for humidity reading. To the latter one water had to be supplied every day. The temperature and humidity reading were jotted down on a piece of paper, and Mr. Stromsholm took me outside the building where we could look up to the top of Fløyen, where there was a weather vane large enough to be seen. I was shown how to read the direction of the wind and then jot it down on the same slip of paper that had the temperature and humidity reading. This slip of paper was deposited through a slot in the wall of Bergens Tidende (Bergen’s Times), which daily carried these readings. Another part of our daily routine was to feed three white mice in a cage in the basement. This was done by soaking a biscuit in water and fastening it between the wires of the cage. The wet biscuit served for food and water needed by the mice. I expressed doubt that this was sufficient water, but Mr. Stromsholm assured me it was quite sufficient. When these mice died later, one after the other, and I had to report to Dr. Lie that the white mice were dead, he chided me for not taking good care of them, though I had followed the regular routine every day. Since then I have learned that bread made from wheat from which the hull first has been removed lacks a certain substance absolutely necessary for the life of any mammal. This substance contained in the hull is called Thiamine and I suspect Hansen, Lie nor Loennecken knew this at that time, for it was later a scientific discovery. When I learned this, and remembered the incident with the mice, I felt satisfied that the tragedy that overtook the mice was no fault of mine. Since the mice had been intended for experiments their eventual end would certainly have been much more tragic, and I could feel no remorse for their premature demise.

         I kept following Mr. Stromsholm on daily trips to the drugstore, which I think was Lothes’s Apothek, and occasionally to the place of slaughtering where we obtained plasma from the ox blood for serum. Doctor Hansen and Loenecken were constantly looking through the microscope at smears on glass slides, using tubes of serum for cultivating and propagating bacteria cultures. Many glass tubes of serum were required. The clean and empty glass tube with a cotton stopper was placed in a gas oven and heated until the cotton showed brown from burn, when it was considered that all germ life inside the tube was killed. When we needed plasma, we would notify the butcher, who would run blood into a basin and set it aside. By the time we arrived, the corpuscles would have separated and sunk to the bottom, and the clear plasma fluid could be run off into the container we brought. Back at the laboratory we should syphon this into the glass tubes which had been prepared. The tubes were then placed back in the oven in an almost level position, leaning just enough away from the top to prevent the liquid from touching the cotton stopper. They were heated until the liquid stiffened, and they were then ready for a smear of the sample, which was applied with a platinum wire imbedded in a small glass tube as handle. Then this operation was completed, the wire was held in the gas flames until red hot, killing all the germs on the wire. Sometime later when Stromsholm had left, Dr. Lie showed me how necessary it was to thoroughly disinfect the tube before the serum was put in. I had prepared the glass tubes and put cotton stoppers in them and heated them to what I considered sufficient, but evidently not enough, for later a mold had formed in the tube and even in and around the cotton stopper. Dr. Lie told me that this was because the tube had not been burned sufficiently before the serum was inserted.

         One evening, when Dr. and Mrs. Lie had Mr. and Mrs. Christian Mikkelsen for dinner guests. He invited them up to the laboratory to show them around. A lesson was forcefully impressed on Mr. Mikkelsen when he picked up a tube which contained diphtheria germs, Dr. Lie had left it standing in a glass on the table and Mr. Mikkelsen picked it up and looked at it, turned it around and upside down as if it had been any ordinary glass tube. When Dr. Lie noticed it, he grabbed the tube and exclaimed, “Nei!” (no) Mr. Mikkelsen was surprised, and Dr. Lie smiled apologetically and explained how dangerous the thing was that he had handled. However, since the tube had a stopper in it, which had not come out, there evidently was no harm done, and no one got diphtheria from that episode.

         Dr. Danielssen had been Overlaege at Pleiestiftelsen before Dr. Hansen came, and had moved over to Lungegaard Hospital, but had died recently. Stromsholm and I were asked to go over to the institution to pick up his correspondence, which was to be given into the charge of Dr. Lie. We found a pile of papers on the floor and one of the nurses standing in charge. While we were picking the papers up and trying to get order out of chaos, my attention was caught by some unusual heading on one of the letters and I stopped to look more closely, when the nurse said, “No reading”. Stromsholm smiled pleasantly and said, “When we get them over to our place we can read all we want to.” The nurse said stiffly, “Well, when they are out of my charge you can read all you want to.” The box of papers were left in Lie’s office behind the laboratory, and I never saw or heard any more of them. Whether or not Dr. Lie, or anyone else, was to write a biography of Dr. Danielssen, I do not know. I do not see how Dr. Lie could do it for he was a very busy man and it would have required a long time to read that mess of correspondence.

         Two pastors had been assigned to minister to the needs of the patients. One was a solid and well-built individual, heavily bearded. He was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, and Dr. Lie remarked to Mr. Loennecke, “He looks like a man of the world”. The other was tall and thin and smoothly shaven, ascetic and pale-looking, and Dr. Lie remarked, “He bears the marks of a clergyman.” Each had with him his official robe which he put on when he visited his patients. Whether or not the second man was a catholic priest, who had done some proselytizing and persuaded Mr. Stromsholm to join the Catholic church, I do not know, but Stromsholm did join the Catholic church while he was at Pleiestiftelsen. One Sunday morning he invited me to go along, to Catholic services and we asked Dr. Lie’s permission to leave the institution for this purpose. Dr. Lie chided Stromsholm for taking this step and Stromsholm answered, “Well, it is the original church.” “No,” said Dr. Lie, “It isn’t the original, for there are too many errors and human rules and regulations.” Stromsholm was silent and we received permission to leave and attend the mass. While the Catholics in Norway are few, there could have been some Catholic patients, who required the services of a priest.

         Some time after Stromsholm had gone, I asked permission to leave for church one Sunday morning, and the permission was rather reluctantly given. Though ready to defend and uphold Protestantism he apparently had no very high opinion of some of the local clergy. The atheism of Ibsen and Bjørnson had influenced even some of those of the local people up in Jølster, and I suspect that the learned doctors put more credence in Darwinism than in the biblical account of the origins of life. Especially so Dr. Lie, who was a product of a German university, where one can imagine the story of the origin of human race according to Genesis, was roundly discounted, and the Origin of the Species by Darwin was accepted in its place.

         Stromsholm and I had one more task to do together before his time was up. That was to make up a batch of turpentine salve and plaster. The ingredients were listed in Pharmacopoeia Norge and consisted of many different substances, besides turpentine and resin, which are the only two that I can remember now. The ingredients had healing and pain relieving properties and the plaster was used by the nurses to apply to raw and bleeding hands and open sores. The concoction was smeared on linen cloth. When the warm liquid cooled it thickened and stayed on the cloth without running. The making of the plaster may be said to be on the mass production basis. The ingredients were measured and weighed into a cast iron kettle, possibly about the size of a half gallon. All was heated over the coal fire on the kitchen range. The stuff was terribly inflammable. Stromsholm stirred the mess with a wooden paddle and held the handle of the kettle in the other hand, ready to snatch it from the stove the instant it started to boil for fear that the inflammable fumes would ignite. The salve was spread on the cloth by means of a cast iron machine, which had a trough about 14 or 15 inches long, about six inches deep, and tapering toward the bottom where there was an iron roller a half inch thick on which the cloth was rolled, and the end of the cloth put under the trough. The end of the cloth protruded far enough out to allow one of the operators to pull it out. This ancient machine, for it gave the appearance of having been used a long time, had been dug out of some cubby hole before the operation started and sat in the hallway. It was dirty and dusty and sticky with the remains of the salve from former operations, and certainly would not meet the standards of the present day demands for immaculate and thoroughly sterilized instruments and equipment. However, neither is there anything immaculate connected with leprosy and at the moment no hope of cure, so perhaps the attendants grew a little careless at times, or perhaps there was disinfecting quality in the salve that would sterilize any impurities there may have been. At least we cleaned the apparatus as well as we could with rags before pouring the molten liquid from our cast iron kettle. When this was done, Mr. Stromsholm held tightly onto the machine, while I pulled, the linen cloth end out came a long, shining sheet of turpentine plaster. The plaster hardened immediately, and the sheet could be rolled into a roll to be used by the nurses who cut strips from it with their scissors as needed.

         There were of course several deaths during the year, and one of these occurred while Stromsholm was still with us. Dr. Lie usually performed a post-mortem examination in a black oil cloth bed, which he carried under his arm to the morgue, or the death room, Stromsholm carried the required instruments for this operation. Dr. Lie was frequently called out into the city to perform these post-mortem operations, and the little black bag containing scalpels, hammer and chisel, and a saw came along. One chisel had a little round spike about three quarters inch long beside the cutting edge. This was used when opening the vertebrae for the removal of the spinal cord. The little spike would keep the chisel inside the vertebrae and the chisel could be turned to the left and to the right and then the hammer and chisel opened the vertebrae for the removal of the spinal cord. Dr. Lie had performed many operations and had become an expert. I marveled at the ease with which he removed the breast bone from the collar bone and the ribs, with just a little pressure on the knife he cut through the gristle which connects to these bones. The breast bone could then be lifted out and the heart and lungs were exposed. When he wanted to look at the brain, the scalp must first be removed and then the saw came into use. It was easy to tell when the bone was sawed through and stop in time before the brain was injured. When the operation was finished, it was up to Stromsholm, and me later, when he was gone, to put things together again, sew up and clean up.

         It was a great education for me in anatomy and physiology. It was also an education in the control of emotions. Until now I had hardly seen a human corpse, and to me, the uneducated and inexperienced youth from the country, a dead human body was untouchable. I presume that I could never have imagined that such awful desecration as I had just seen, could be performed on one of God’s creatures, unfortunate enough to die. Of course my sensibilities had already been dulled considerably by looking at living humans on whom the awful disease of leprosy had made such havoc, leaving them without noses, toes and fingers, and with gaping and oozing sores, through which white bone would show at times.

         The three weeks of my apprenticeship soon came to an end and it was time for Stromsholm to leave. In my memory book, on the page on which my brother had written his memory verse, Stromsholm wrote, “Lenge Leve Norske Brødre!” (long live Norwegian brothers) A.E. Stromsholm. And then he was gone. He had gotten a job to look after an elderly man and undoubtedly at a better wage. At Pleiestiftelsen the wage for Cupsetter was Kr. 20 per month, and food and lodging. Some well-to-do invalid could easily pay more than that to a capable man like Stromsholm. I never saw Stromsholm again, nor do I know where he went for he had not enlightened me.

         So I moved into his quarters where I worked and ate and slept. My position was such that I was not supposed to eat with the rest of the employees in the dining room, but my food was brought to me and I ate at the table in the apothek and workroom and sleeping room. One day when the girl brought my dinner she remained and chatted while I ate. As the room was next to Dr. Lie’s office, he knew that the girl was there and probably heard our conversation. After she had gone he came in and asked me why she stayed during the meal. She did not need to spend her time there while I was eating. Whether it was concern for the time she waited while watching me eat, or if it was a boy and girl problem he was afraid of, I do not know. I could say nothing, but had no reason to hang my head, for I had not asked the girl to stay. I probably told her later that the doctor frowned on her visit, and thereafter her visits were strictly business.

         However I told her I could take a real good picture of her. In the attic or third story room above the laboratory was a photographer’s studio, that is, it was a room that had been made to accommodate picture-taking. There was a skylight that made the room bright, and there was a good-sized camera, which the doctor sometimes used to take pictures of patients. The pictures were undoubtedly used in articles for medical journals, either by Dr. Lie or his predecessors. However, while I had not specifically been told not to use or disturb any of this equipment, for the reason I presume it was taken for granted I knew enough to leave those things alone. I knew well enough that it was strictly unethical for me to do what I proposed to the girl, nevertheless I took her picture up there in the photo room with equipment belonging to the institution. I had access to the dark room and a box of plates and loaded the plate holder of the camera, and when the girl had put on her best clothes she came to get her picture taken. I focused the camera and put in the plate holder, which I had covered with a dark cloth to insure absolute darkness. The dark cloth contributed to the failure of the enterprise, for in my inexperience and confusion, I pulled the slide in the plate holder nearest me, and not the one that would have exposed the plate. I took the cap from the lens and admonished the girl to smile and then removed the cover from the lens and after the time I considered right for an exposure. I put it on again and the picture was taken, supposedly. Later on in the dark room I realized what I had done, and put the plate back in the box and closed it securely, and left a little wiser and considerably relieved at the breech of trust I had committed had not resulted in any loss or damage to any institutional property, and no loss of reputation to myself. Later I had to tell Amelia what had happened and naturally she was not very pleased. She did not like spending her time dressing up and have perhaps the pleasurable anticipation of getting a nice, big picture shattered rather dismally. But the incident was soon forgotten and we remained friends for the rest of my stay. 

         In a place where there were so many patients, many of them helpless to do anything for themselves, there were of course a lot of employees, both male and females, and mostly young people, except in the case of the nurses, who were mature and dependable women. There were kitchen and laundry and bathrooms which had to have the necessary attendants. They were a lively lot and some of them gifted. There was a young fellow who played the accordion, and had a respectable number of tunes in his head and frequently played to appreciative audiences. After a while I began to associate with these young people during their leisure hours, and eventually I learned a fairly good game of chess. All would not have been passed for good Sunday School pupils, and here may have been dark shenanigans in the deep recesses of the basement, where there probably were trysting places for boys and girls. One girl, who could have said with the Apostle Paul, “Oh, what I wretched man that I am! For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil that I would not, I do.” In remorse for giving into her weakness, she read the Bible, which she had lying on a chair by her bed, a very thick and enormously clumsy book to be read in bed.

         There was a young fellow, who was the gardener, who also played chess and spoke German and told funny stories. One of his stories had an anti-semitic undertone, which wasn’t surprising since he had spent his apprentice days in Germany. There was also a hint of satire on the Evangelical Lutheran Church, alleging it had made itself guilty of methods which smacked of the Spanish Inquisition. It was a story made up for entertainment.

 A Lutheran preacher had been proselytizing among the Jews, and had one in tow, who refused to be converted. The preacher had him by the neck near a pond of water, and when he refused to acknowledge the Evangelical Lutheran faith as his, the preacher ducked his head under water and held him as long as he could stand to without air. Then he let him up and said, “Do you believe in the holy Evangelical Lutheran faith?” “No”, said the Jew. Immediately he was pushed under again and held there as long as he could stand it, and was let up for air. “Do you now believe in the holy Evangelical Lutheran faith? “No”, said the Jew again. Again his head went under and when he was almost drowned his inquisitor let him up, and asked again, “Do you now believe in the holy Evangelical Lutheran faith?” “Yes,” said the Jew, evidently now convinced that his life was forfeit and could be saved by a confession. “Then die in the holy Evangelical Lutheran faith!” said the preacher and ducked him under and held him until he was drowned.

          The versatile gardener was asked by Mrs. Lie to plant sweet peas in her window box because she had a liking for the exquisite flower, but the gardener discouraged her in this, explaining the sweet peas need deep soil and would not do well in the window box.

         Mrs. Lie liked music and when Edvard Grieg announced that he would give a concert on a certain day and hour, Mrs. Lie wanted to attend. Dr. Lie came to me and asked me to get up early one morning and go to the place where numbers were given out for reserved seats at the concert. He admonished me to get down there early so that Mrs. Lie would get a good seat. It was not tickets that were being handed out but numbers, which would indicate the seat number, and the actual ticket could be obtained later. I was the first one at the appointed place on the appointed morning, but as a man with the numbers was not yet on hand, and others began to come, who were more aggressive than I was and got their hands outstretched ahead of me, I secured only the 8th number. However when I reported to Dr. Lie, he thought number 8 would bring Mrs. Lie near enough to the great man for easy hearing, and he was satisfied. Later on as I made my daily trip to the drugstore I went by the place where the concert was to be held and had a chance to see the great Edvard Grieg from a distance. He was a rather small man, with a slightly uptilted nose. He had on a green coat, which gave the impression of being green with age, but this evidently was not so, for I have heard that his family was rich and undoubtedly he was able to buy clothes and green was perhaps the mode of the day. I have realized since that I was in the presence of greatness, and I remember it now I think of another great musician who brought fame to Norway and by whose cast iron grave marker I walked every day as it was easily visible from the street and only a short distance from the hospital. His name was Ole Bull, the famous violinist of the 19th century.. 

         Many visitors came to the hospital, including several doctors from abroad. Once two doctors came from Germany, and Dr. Lie took them along on the morning visit to the rooms, lecturing to them in German in which he was very fluid, and on this occasion he enjoyed himself very much. At another time two doctors came from St. Paul, Minnesota. In this case Dr. Lie had to confine himself to his native language, but the St. Paul doctors were of Norwegian descent, and understood the language. It may be that these two men at that time issued an invitation to Dr. Hansen to visit St. Paul. Ordinarily of course it is not necessary to have an invitation to visit any city, but there is a distinct possibility that with the invitation also went to promise to pay the expenses. I learned later that Dr. Hansen had made the trip.

         A couple of times when Dr. Lie was away, visitors came from England. A lady doctor from England and her female companion became my personal problem. With neither of the doctors at the institution that day, I was called on to meet the ladies and see what they wanted. To say my knowledge of English was very limited is putting it mildly. I had actually read a little in a First Book in English, but had had no instruction. I understood that the doctor would like to see some of the patients and took her to a room where one of the women patients was apparently well, but had smooth and whitish patches on her skin, I asked her to roll up her sleeve and show the doctor her forearm, but she refused to cooperate. The doctor asked, “Is it smooth?” and stroked her own arm up and down to help my lack of understanding. She was answered in the affirmative. Leprosy acts two distinctly different ways. On some patients there were whitish patches which were smooth with brownish edges and in others it made lumps as big as hazel nuts. The lady was undoubtedly familiar with this from her studies, though she may never before have had contact with a leper patient.

         Another English doctor and his female companion, undoubtedly his wife, came at another time when all the doctors were absent and I was called on to answer questions. My stammering and confusion and glaring errors in pronunciation brought a smile to the doctor’s lips and suddenly I had a brilliant idea: I called to Dr. Loennecken on the telephone and invited the doctor to talk to him, and evidently Dr. Loennecken’s English at that time was better than mine, for the two conversed and the doctor went away satisfied that he had gotten all the information he possibly could get under the language difficulties. Dr. Lie was fluent in German but I doubt he could have done much better than I in English.

         No doubt Dr. Lie could speak other languages, perhaps French. He was the secretary of the Bergen Medical Society, and received medical journals to be distributed by him (can’t decipher)a French language journal, for English had not yet superseded the French as the international language, and to be really educated it was necessary to know French. Presumably a doctor also must have some knowledge of Latin.

         I got to know by sight most of the Bergen doctors, assuming that all of them belonged to the medical society. Among them was Klaus Hanssen, Dr. Armauer Hansen’s brother, who was a specialist in breast (respiratory) diseases, particularly tuberculosis. Another one that I remember was Dr. Madsen who was the only one to perform cataract operations on the eye, something which I was to remember vividly 27 years later when I had to undergo a cataract operation in Grand Forks, North Dakota. One of these medical journals had a report by a French doctor who claimed that a tubercular patient could sneeze or cough germs into the air and that he had caught these germs on glass slides and studied them under the microscope. Drs. Lie and Loennecken decided to test this theory on a tubercular patient we had in one of the rooms upstairs. They fastened several glass slides to a tray and sent me off with instructions to hold the tray in front of him, and then ask him to count loudly to 100. The patient was a tall and sturdy individual, but his lungs were badly infested with TB germs. I do not think that this man was a leper, but Dr. Lie was pretty hoarse and could not count very loudly or forcibly, and perhaps this was the reason Dr. Loennecken was unable to find any trace of the TB germs on the slides when they were put under the microscope. Perhaps the failure to find germs was caused by my failure to get the patient to count or sneeze or cough loudly enough and so Dr. Loennecken himself prepared another set of slides on a try and went himself to repeat the experiment, but it failed a second time.

         I was called by the nurse another time to the same floor to help with a patient to whom she had been unable to give an enema. This man had no symptoms of leprosy either, but I suspect he was a poor soul with whom Dr. Lie had sympathy and his big compassionate heart had prompted him to give succor and shelter. When my mission was successfully accomplished with this operation, the patient showed his gratitude by giving me a book he had with him in his bed. I came upon this book later on in my luggage when I visited at my home and found it to be a nasty and shameful piece of printing, that could only be classified as pornography. When my step mother’s hired girl asked to borrow it, I tossed it in the flames before her eyes, to her very great disgust at such waste and destruction. When she asked why I destroyed the book I answered, “It wasn’t fit reading for you.” “It wasn’t any worse for me than for you”, she said, “Oh yes, it was.” I said. “I want you to continue to be a sweet and innocent girl, and to read “En Glad Gut” (A Happy Boy) and “Synnøve Solbakken” and “Husmandsgutten” (The Butler’s Son).  “Å, pytt sann” (oh, good grief) said she, and tossed her head.

         One day the same nurse came rushing into my room and said breathlessly, “Where is the doctor?” I said, “I guess he is out visiting his patients.” One of her patients was choking to death. Leprosy attacks the throat and speech organs and eventually the wind pipe is clogged up, and if he doesn’t get relief through a tracheotomy operation, he dies. Dr. Lie came in shortly after the nurse had rushed back to the dying man, and we hurried to the room with instruments and a silver tube. We found the man seemingly still in death. Dr. Lie hurriedly cut into the windpipe and inserted the tube. A very faint puff of air was expelled and the doctor tried artificial respiration, but it was too late. No one could be blamed in such a case. The doctor could not be expected to be available at all times. Perhaps the nurse could have been forewarned and warned the doctor so that the operation could have been done in time. Several patients had those tubes in their throats and could breath and talk. When they talked they had to put the finger or a fingerless stump over the tube.

         Such a one was Mr. Axvig, who was the porter. He answered the bell at the main entrance of the hospital. When he talked he covered the tube in this throat with the stump of his hand, from which he had lost his fingers. Nevertheless he was alert and efficient at this job, which offered him opportunity to contact people from the outside world, was stimulating and minimized to some extent that hopelessness of the existence of a man afflicted with the curse of leprosy.

         There were often visitors. The dwellings of the doctor and the Forvalter were inside the compound, and these men and their families of course had visitors from the outside. Others came to the Forvalter’s office for business reasons, and Dr. Lie had patients come to his office. There may have been friends and relatives of some of the patients in the wards. One day I met two young ladies in the hallway and got into conversation with them. They introduced themselves and asked about my job. Their name was Mikkelsen and Bertine, the oldest, was the spokesman. She was pretty and smiling and asked many questions. Suddenly she said in English, “Come with me to England,” When I answered, “I can’t”, she said, “Oh, do you speak English?” I said I didn’t. She said, “Of course I wouldn’t have said that if I had thought you could understand it!” The similarity of English to the Norwegian in that sentence is so obvious, however, that almost anyone would have understood what was said. They walked out of the hall and out the door, and that was the last time I saw them. There were no doubt many Mikkelsens in Bergen and there is a very small likelihood that these Mikkelsens had any connection whatever with another Mikkelsen name that became famous in Norwegian history in five or six years.

         The lady who was the cashier and treasurer and paymaster at Pleiestiftelsen lived downtown, somewhere near Bergen’s Museum. One pay day she came to the office and had forgotten the purse with the money. I was sent for and directed to her home with instructions to bring the bag of money. Perhaps there had been a telephone conversation between her and her home, though I wonder if any of the residences had private telephone as yet. There was one telephone at the hospital, which was located in the doctor’s residence near the outside. There was none either in the business office or in the doctor’s office. Perhaps Mrs. Lie’s maid, or Mrs. Lie herself on occasion answered the telephone. It is very unlikely therefore that the cashier lady had one at her house. I presented myself at the house, and was given a fairly good-sized bag containing money, which I learned contained Kr. 4000. On the way back I caught up with a cart or dray carrying waste to the dump, and on top of the load was a very young man wielding a horse whip, with which he lashed at me as I hurried by. I deemed it wise to widen the distance between me and him as fast as possible.

         It was the year 1898. It was before the automobile, the airplane, and the lightbulb industry. It was even before the typewriter! And it was also before Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler. Those of us old enough to remember, must look back with nostalgic longing to those good days before the World Wars. The city of Bergen was much smaller than it is today. There was still room at Nygaard for the buildings of the World’s Fair, which was held in Bergen that year. Bergen’s street car system and Trikken (electric cable system) comes up past Pleiestiftelsen, up Kalfaret as it did in those days and way beyond now, as the city has blossomed out. I do not remember much about the World’s Fair.  Perhaps I did not even visit it, except for a trip near the big staircase of the main building. It was made more memorable because a lady came out on the staircase just as I was there, with an Edison Phonograph with a big appendage of a horn, which was the loud speaker from which blared shrill music and speaking. That is my first experience with the phonograph which in its perfected state I have had occasion to make much use of as substitute for a reader since I lost my reading sight.

         Doesn’t it seem strange today to think that the world had to get along for thousands of years without the typewriter? Dr. Lie wrote a scientific article on some subject, the title which I have now forgotten, and asked me to rewrite the first page ready for publication. Whether it was because my penmanship was not acceptable, or because I had left out a “d” in a word like “født”, I don’t know, but Dr. Lie wrote the final version himself, or got someone else to do it for him.

         One day he was called by the police to perform a post-mortem operation on a decomposed body of a baby, which had been found at the foothill of Fløyfjeldet. It was a messy job, my part especially, as the tissues would no longer sustain the seam. After he had finished his examination, Dr. Lie paced back and forth on the floor dictating his report to the writer from the police department. Today a stenographer and a typewriter would be used for such a report, or even a tape recorder. While stenography had been used for a long time, the typewriter is comparatively recent. Afterwards Dr. Lie complained about the slowness of the writer, of whom he expected more speed considering the position he held in that capacity in the police department.

         At this time I was frequently called upon to be errand boy, not only by Dr. Lie, but also by Loennecken and at least on one occasion by Dr. Hansen. When he ran out of smoking tobacco one day, he asked me to go to the store for a fresh supply. His tobacconist was on Torgalmenningen which was quite a walk from Pleiestiftelsen, but I was happy to do something for Dr. Hansen. I went almost on a run. The tobacconist knew what kind of tobacco Dr. Hansen used and all I needed to do was to ask for smoking tobacco for him and the purchase would be entered on his account. When I returned with the goods it was discovered it was the wrong kind. Dr. Hansen would have been willing to endure another kind of tobacco not his favorite, but I was anxious to get the mistake corrected and offered to make the trip once more. This time I had the name of the right sort. When I came back to the shop, I found that I had been given tobacco for Dr. Hansen’s brother Klaus Hanssen.

         Dr. Loennecken also asked me to run errands for him and once, after Dr. Loennecken had asked me to go on one of those errands, Dr. Lie came into the apothek and said, “You do not need to run errands for Dr. Loennecken. He can get someone else to run errands for him.” I explained that in this case I would like to go, for it would give me an opportunity to visit the Bergen Library. Dr. Lie said, “Very well”, and I went on Dr. Loennecker’s errand, and also visited the library. I had been reading Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and wanted to find more of his books. They were of course translations. Another book I had been reading was a dark and mysterious Swedish historical novel, full of hooded monks and court intrigue, also a translation.

         Once when Dr. Lie was absent on a trip to Kristiansund, the nurse told me that there was no more turpentine plaster and I determined to cook up a new supply. On my trip to Lothe’s drug store that day, I obtained the ingredients required and weighed and measured them into the little black pot and proceeded to melt it and bring it to a boil on top of the kitchen range. Whether or not the fire was hotter than usual, or my carelessness was greater than usual, I do not know. However the evaporation from the highly inflammable substances caught fire, and in an instant there was a column of fire reaching the ceiling. I had been stirring with a wooden paddle, and my right hand was enveloped in the flame for a moment and was burned severely. An anguished cry was sent in the direction of old Jørgen, who was the furnace stoker. He was reading nearby, but my cry went unheeded. A second cry so charged with fear and anguish that it could have raised the dead, went out and Jørgen finally seeing what was happening became a hurricane. He grabbed his long poker that had a hook on the end of it, and was able to catch the handle of the kettle and yank it off the stove spilling the burning contents on the cement floor where they ran into the gutter. A kitchen maid who had witnessed the accident hovered in flight on the stairway, ready to call the fire department but Jørgen, anticipating her intent, called out stentoriously and authoritatively, “Don’t call the fire department”. The crisis was over, and the building was not on fire. The flame had not actually reached the tin hood or canopy over the range. The heat of it would have melted it like wax. Fortunately there was no other damage than that which was caused by the heavy volume of smoke from the burning of the resin and turpentine and other highly volatile contents of the kettle.

         Without Jørgen’s prompt action, when he was aroused, I should probably have set fire to Pleiestiftelsen that day. How many of the patients would have been safely evacuated in time? The awful consequence of such an eventuality has haunted me all my life, and more than once have I thought of old Jørgen, and hope that he is gathered with angels in heaven, with a glorified body free from all scars and disfigurements. And should it be that he is in torment, I hope some sympathetic Lazarus is able to dip his finger in the water, and cool his thirsty tongue.

         1898 was the year of the Spanish American War, and the three doctors in Pleiestiftelsen laboratory conversed often about the war and their sympathies were definitely with Spain, especially Dr. Lie. He had studied in Germany and his sympathies were definitely European and American.

         Whether it was in 1898 or in 1899 that there was a cholera scare in Spain. I cannot remember now, but Dr. Lie had received and inquiry from Kristiania, asking him if he would volunteer for service in Spain, helping to combat the epidemic. He was also asked what charges he would make for this services. After consultation with the other doctors at the laboratory, and possible others, he had written that he was willing to volunteer and that he thought his serves ought to be worth Kr. 50 per day. Now, 68 years later this seems like a ridiculously low figure for such service, which had the possibility of such deadly danger connected with it. I do not suppose that it was the fee asked that was the reason nothing more was heard about the matter, but most likely the epidemic was successfully combatted without much outside help.

         Both Dr. Hansen and Dr. Lie were asked to give lectures to Bergen’s Arbeider Forening (workers organization). These meetings were held in some building near Bergen’s Museum. On such an occasion Dr. Hansen’s subject was “Noah and the Ark and the Flood”, and I can imagine that Dr. Hansen would rather ridicule the story that Noah could build a boat big enough to hold a pair of all the species of animals in the world at that time, together with food for the duration of the flood, and that it would rain 40 days and 40 nights, until the waters stood over the highest mountains! But not knowing for sure if he did this, why do I raise the question of slander and slander the good man.

         Dr. Lie’s subject was the custom of the South Sea Islander women to bind their babies’ heads to boards so that they would grow flat heads, evidently the mode in the South Sea Islands at the time like it was the mode in China for mothers to bin the feet of girl babies.

         All the employees of the hospital, including Dr. Lie, had free medical care and medicine. I had never needed this service during my stay at the institution, except on the occasion when my hand was burned, and another time when in a sewing operation after a post-mortem, my fingers slipped off the flat-sided, sharp edged needle and made an ugly gash in my finger. Dr. Lie disinfected the cut thoroughly with a substance called “Is eddike” (ice vinegar) which I have unable to associate with any disinfectants with an English name. 

         Dr. Lie himself stricken with a fierce attack of diarrhea and had to go to bed for a couple of days, Dr. Loennecken was called in for consultation and prescribe medicine. I was called to be night nurse and was told I could sleep in a rocker within easy call from the bed. I slept soundly in those days, and Dr. Lie had to call more than once to get me awake when he needed me in the night. A toilet fixture the likes of which I had never seen before, nor since, had two compartments of barrel shape. The outside compartment filled with water and a lid with flange deep enough to reach the water and completely seal it up with the stool inside, prevented the slightest hint of taint of the air in the room. Dr. Lie’s illness lasted but a short time and he was soon on the job again.

         One day he came into my room with another man, whom he introduced as an inspector from the department of health. Presumably he was from Kristiania. After the introduction, Dr. Lie said, “Mr. Aardal takes care of things in an efficient manner.” I happened to be between the counter and the shelves of medicines and bottles and jars when an apothecary ought to be on such an occasion. After a brief survey from his position by the door, he left.

         I can remember those shelves and the jars and tin boxes, but the names of the contents escape me now after these many years. Carbolic acid came in large bottles, and was diluted to 2% for disinfecting purposes. Lysol also came in large bottles, and was used for cleaning purposes. There was ammonia in a large bottle and Vaseline in a half gallon tin box. Dr. Lie used to soak his hands thoroughly with Vaseline before an operation, and I did the same. Salicylic acid came in doses measured by the gram, was weighed out. Now it is in table form and is called aspirin, and is handed out indiscriminately in large quantities and used for and all ailments. I remember the name Liquor Pectoralis, Icthyel, Atropine and Morphine. (One old lady had plenty of scars from injections on her wrist.  She was probably an addict.) Others were Boric Acid, Jod, or Iodine. Many years have erased the memory of the names of many other medicines on the shelves, and used in Dr. Lie’s practice in his compassionate care of his unfortunate patients.

         One morning in early spring, Dr. Hansen came in with a nosegay of Pasque flowers quite pleased at having found these early harbingers of spring. Here in the Upper Midwest we find these pale and lavender and unpretentious blossoms on the prairies, almost under the snow, and we call them by May Flowers, Crocuses and seldom by the name Pasque flowers. Where Dr. Hansen had found his little bouquet on his walk from his home to the hospital I cannot understand. Perhaps he had made a round of the garden. There was a fairly wide area devoted to garden and ornamental trees adjoining a branch of the sea, which stuck a slender arm into the center of the city and was called Big Lungegaards Vand (lake), and Little Lungegaards Vand. There was a building close to the edge of the lake, perhaps a boat house, but I do not remember if there was any boat in it then. Perhaps not, for who can tell if some of the patients might have taken a notion to get into the boat and row away. This area was a playground for the patients who were able to be up and around. I remember especially a young 15 or 16 year old boy, who was a good swimmer and played gymnastics in the water, turning summersaults as if he were an accomplished dolphin. That the graveyard was close by only separated by a fence, was a sober reminder of the brevity of life, especially for lepers.

         At the end of August, 1899, I read an advertisement in an official publication that came to the office. It was about a navel school at Horten, which advertised for applicants. Education was free and so was board and lodging and clothing. While I had enjoyed my stay at Pleiestiftelsen, I realized that the future in the position was pretty dim, and I decided I needed education which I was unable to provide, but would willingly accept from the government. I gave Dr. Lie notice for October 1st. I told him that I was sorry to leave, but must think of the future and I did not think there was future in the job as cupsetter at Pleiestiftelsen. There was nothing much that could be said about that, and Dr. Lie advertised for another cupsetter. M.H. Helleland, with the imposing title of Santitets (sanitation) Corporal, applied and was accepted. He had that title during his brief army service and he came for his apprenticeship the second week in September, and from then on we worked together, I tried as best I could to show him what his duties were and how to perform his tasks. Undoubtedly Dr. Lie felt that I should have remained a little longer, for it takes more than three weeks to acquire efficiency in the kind of work there was to do. In fact it takes all the time of one and one half years, and it may be that there was some dissatisfaction because I left too soon.  However, our parting was friendly, and I received the customary letter of recommendation. My daughter found it recently among old papers. It is yellow and old now, but I value it highly as a reminder of the pleasant days at Pleiestiftelsen. The letter follows:

“Mr. Nicolai Ǻrdal har været kopsetter ved Pleiestiftelsen No. 1 siden våren, 1898, og altid utfort sit arbeide fuldt tilfredsstillende. Han er en tjenestvillig og elskverdig ung mand, som det er mig en fornøelse at give en anbefaling

H. P. Lie
Læge og Bestyrer”

 

(Mr. Nicolai Aardal has been a cupsetter at Carecenter No. 1 since spring 1898, and always carried out his work to complete satisfaction. He is a willing and a likeable young man, for whom it is my pleasure to give a recommendation.


H.
P. Lie
Doctor and Director)


After Word

        Evidently it was not my fate to become a naval or military man. My guardian angel smote my sensibilities in such a way that I missed the boat that would have taken me to Horten in time to enter the naval school. Telegraphic inquiry brought the response: “Presence 9 o’clock A.M. Absolutely necessary.” That was the end of my naval career.

        I left Norway for America in March, 1900, and began an entirely new life. I worked on my uncle’s farm near Grafton, N.D. and attended the University of North Dakota School of Commerce, and became book keeper and assistant cashier of the First National Bank of Milton, N.D.

        In February, 1912, I returned to Norway on my first visit home. Before departing again for the United States in May, 1912, I called at Pleiestiftelsen and found Dr. Lie in his office, and busy with several patients waiting in the waiting room. I waited my turn. Dr. Lie did not recognize me and I had to tell him that I was his former cupsetter. He was very gracious and friendly and asked about my work, and wondered if I wouldn’t just as soon get a job in Norway. The visit was brief because he had patients waiting for him. I also visited with Mr. Langemo, the Forvalter, who was pleased to see me, too, and friendly. He told me his son, who had left for America while I was still at Pleiestiftelsen, was in Seattle.  Everything seemed to be the same in the medical and commissary departments as it had been a dozen years before.

         During the more than two thirds of a century since these days Pleiestiftelsen, I have had a good and kindly feeling toward Dr. Lie, and it is to this fond memory that I dedicate my story of experiences and memories at Pleiestiftelsen. Dr. Hansen had died six months prior. Dr. Loennecken was practicing medicine in his private practice in Bergen. In February 1966 he celebrated his 95th birthday, and a clipping of the newspaper interview was sent me. I wrote him a letter of congratulations. When I tried to contact him in Bergen in 1964, he had gone to Oslo to attend the 75th anniversary of his graduation from medical school.

        Could it be possible that we two could meet again after 70 years! 

 


 

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