Etikettarkiv: tuberculosis

Professor Malmsten’s Patient Journals

The Sick Child by Edvard Munch 1885. The painting is of Munch’s sister who died from TB.

Augusta spent the summer of 1852 at Loddby. She was ill with tuberculosis. Adolf Nordvall (who she would later marry) was studying in Uppsala and they wrote long letters to each other. He worried and inquired about her health. She tried to sound upbeat about it, but didn’t like her local doctor:

Loddby 31 August 18,52

…My health and my strength are improving in big leaps. Doctor Almqvist is often out to see me and each time he becomes more complacent. Yesterday, he likened me to Hebe [the Greek goddess of eternal youth], so you can imagine how I have improved since you last saw me…”

But what she really wanted was to see Adolf again. And the doctor was getting on her nerves:

Loddby, 14 September 1852

…I was just interrupted by the doctor  who has been sitting here for 5 hours and talked so much nonsense that I am really tired, as if I had walked several miles. He is unsatisfied with my plan to travel to Stockholm and, to be truthful, I also think it might be unnecessary. One doctor is exactly like another; they don’t have any interest in their patients – or know what they should prescribe – and I am really averse to having to start explaining my misery to yet another [doctor].

Pehr Henrik Malmsten
Pehr Henrik Malmsten. Efter teckning av F. Hallman 1854.

In the beginning of October, Augusta finally traveled to Stockholm and stayed with her old friends, the family Hjort. She now got a new doctor, and not just any doctor, but a professor and also the royal family’s private doctor: Pehr Henrik Malmsten.

Stockholm, 3 October 1852

…The Professor visits me every day and always has a gracious disposition….

Stockholm, 12 October 1852

…I am completely taken in by Professor Malmsten. He is the most kind, wise, and pleasant doctor one can encounter; always happy and nice, never grumpy or careless like other Sons of Aesculapius [the Roman god of healing and medicine]. What I least admire in him is his terrible stubbornness to coax me into taking fish oil, and he will most likely succeed in the end, even though I fight for the longest time….

Augusta writes that she lies about taking the fish oil and has qualms about lying to the doctor. She tells Adolf in her letter that she only takes one table spoon of fish oil every day instead of two, but “it’s so terrible, so terrible…”

In addition to the terrible fish oil, she is not supposed to “liven up or encourage her numb feelings”. Professor Malmsten thinks that she is too lively. She has to stop laughing, speaking, and debating; sing or play the piano, and to write – and if  writing is necessary, then only a few lines. Also, no reading for the time being. She is not supposed to do anything that will liven up her imagination or make her emotional. This, she is supposed to do for 6 months: a life of “muteness and lifelessness”.

Despite the harsh restrictions and the horrible fish oil, Augusta still likes Professor Malmsten, and the feeling is probably mutual. One day when he visits her, he is coming straight from the death bed of a young woman and he shares his feeling with her: “..I saw that my Professor had shed some compassionate tears over the young woman.”

What Professor Malmsten didn’t know was that tuberculosis was caused by a bacterium. It would take another 30 years until Robert Koch discovered the bacterium in 1882. The only thing he could prescribe was fish oil and rest – and later, sea air at the spa town of Varberg, where Augusta died in 1855.

But in the correspondence between Adolf and Augusta’s mother, following Augusta’s death, Professor Malmsten is implicated – did a prescription contribute to Augusta’s death?  There are no details, just hints. So could we find out if she received any other medications besides fish oil?

I contacted the Swedish National Archives who confirmed that they had Professor Malmsten’s patient journals for the time period during which he treated Augusta. They also had a considerable amount of his correspondence. Could any of this material shed any light on Augusta’s treatment and cause of death?

Kerstin and Sara reading Pehr Henrik Malmsten’s journals and letters at the Swedish National Archives

Today, Kerstin and I visited the archives in Stockholm. It is a serious place. And very quiet. An archivist delivered the brown paper boxes that contained the journals and letters. With cotton gloves, we untied the strings and opened the boxes.

The patient journals were small note books. When I opened the first one, it was not what I had expected. For each patient, there was a row, and the columns represented the days of the month. In this matrix, the doctor had made an X on the day he had seen the patient.

We knew which days Professor Malmsten had visited Augusta, but her name was not listed on any pages in the journals. Why? Was she a special patient? A private patient, paid for by someone else – like her brother-in-law? Was this book a record for billing? No clues.

Malmsten’s Patient Journals

Then there were actual patient journals – called Disease History, but they seemed to be sorted by diseases and possibly for the sake of research. There were journals for patients with Chlorosis [anemia], Bright’s Disease [nephritis], and Syphilis. Those were some of the diseases that Professor Malmsten was interested in. I forgot to check if there were any patients with Phthisis (the Greek name for tuberculosis).

And finally there were the letters. Lots of handwritten, old letters from patients but none from Augusta’s family.

So we removed our cotton glows, wrapped up the boxes, tied the strings, and carted the material back to the archivist. The visit had only taken an hour as there was nothing to be found.

What should we do for the rest of the day?

”Let’s check out the Military Archives,” said Kerstin. ”Maybe we can find out more about Augusta’s dad!”

And off we went.


The Illumination of Stockholm 9 February 1853

Stockholm, 9 February 1853    

My Dear Adolf:

It is evening and on top of all it is the large and remarkable illumination evening. For the last three days, I have missed my Adolf and in vain waited for you at the usual time; in vain longed, in vain complained, but this evening, yes this evening, there are no limits to my sense of loss and my disappointment. Tonight I am all alone in the house, completely alone with myself, my memories, and a large number of lit candles. Their clear flames do not harmonize with my mood at the moment….

Wood engraving by Edward Gurden Dalziel 1862

I have with resentful glances viewed the artificial sea of light that surrounds me from all directions, been ready to blow out every candle, and sit in the dark….

The family just got home from their outing around town, frozen and frightened by the commotion and crowds. A great many of the displays had failed and they had not managed to see some of the most beautiful illuminations like the Bourse.

Adieu for today, my Adolf, more another time.




During the summer of 1852, King Oscar I was ill. For that reason, the King and the Queen spent time at a spa in Bavaria. Two of their children, Eugenie (age 22) and Gustaf (age 25), visited them. On the family’s return trip to Sweden, Prince Gustaf died from typhoid fever and the King had also contracted the disease. Swedes worried that the King might not survive. When in February the King started to recover, the elders of Stockholm decided to arrange a public celebration in the form of an “illumination”. During this event, voluntary contributions to various charities were also encouraged.

The illumination evening on the 9th of February 1853 started at 6:30 pm with a monumental firework display to the music of Svea Artillery’s Band. Small torches had already been lit to illuminate public buildings and places around town. Many private residences were also illuminated. The most elaborate display was the Bourse while another fascinating display was a pyramid made of 80 stacked barrels of tar. The display attracted a huge crowd of spectators when lit. The illumination displays ended at 10 pm at which time many social banquets started.

But Augusta missed it all. She was seriously ill with tuberculosis and couldn’t go out and see the amazing illumination with the family Hjort.

We are just grateful that she mentioned the illumination in her letter, and that our family kept those letters for future generations. A piece of forgotten history rediscovered.


The Bourse







How boring it is to be ill … but Wilhelm von Braun writes humorous poems

In the summer of 1849, I was mostly at home except for a few weeks spent at Fullerstad and a few days at Krusenhof. August was very ill throughout the summer and the joy and well-being during that time were rare guests at Loddby. The last days of the year, I had a violent rush of blood to my lungs, and was sick for 3 weeks.  A thousand times I exclaimed with Braun:

How boring, so boring it is to be ill
woe it’s invention, nevertheless, still
time passes by, as time’s wont to do,
But slowly, damned slowly, time passes through.

(Attempt at translating Wilhelm von Braun’s poem Fantasi på sjuksängen).

This is the first diary entry where we learn that Augusta had tuberculosis, or consumption. Her brother August was also ill and we don’t know what he was afflicted with that summer. Fullerstad was the home of Augusta’s dear relatives, the Schuberts, and Krusenhof was the home of her best friends, the Hjorts.

But who was Wilhelm von Braun who wrote poetry that a 22-year-old girl would have memorized? Well, at that time he was one of Sweden’s most popular poets. And not all of his poems would have been suitable for young women :).

Wilhelm von Braun (1813-1860), like Paul Wahlfelt and other officer friends of Augusta, got his early education in the cadet school at Karlberg’s military academy in Stockholm. This was a boarding school for boys, usually from privileged families. Wilhelm followed the tradition of his father, and was enrolled at Karlberg at 15 years of age in 1828. After graduating in 1834, and for the next 7 years, he served as a lieutenant.

But his passion was poetry and prose. He published his first poetry in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in 1834. In 1849 he wrote a story called Napoleon, the Adventure of a Cadet, which was based on his experiences at Karlberg. In 1846, he resigned his commission as a lieutenant to be a full-time writer.

Von Braun is presently having a renaissance. There is now a Wilhelm von Braun Association who has published the book Wilhelm von Braun – The one that ladies never read (”Den där som damerna aldrig läst”). And while reading the book, one can enjoy a glass of Wilhelm von Braun’s Punsch, a traditional Swedish cordial, produced in honor of this national poet.

I am glad that Augusta still got to enjoy the poems suitable for women, and those that provided humor for young girls suffering with consumption.


Sources (in Swedish):…/ASU_207.pdf  (Kadettminnen av överste Claes Bratt)

Fantasi på Sjuksängen i Samlade Arbeten af Wilhelm v. Braun, Del 1 (pdf of book available free online) (Wilhelm von Brauns Punsch)

Featured image is part of an oil painting by Antonio Mancini (1852-1930), Resting, 1887.,+Antonio



It started with a diary

It started with a diary.

When I was 14, my dad gave me a moleskin notebook and suggested I should start keeping a diary. I was flattered and at the same time curious. Why did he think I should chronicle my mundane teenage life? Years later, I found out that both his mother and her grandmother kept diaries.

My great-great-grandmother (my father’s mother’s mother’s mother) was Augusta Söderholm. She was born in Sweden in 1827 and died from tuberculosis at the age of 28. Her diary starts in 1847 with a trip to Germany and her impressions of travelling by the new mode of transportation – the steam-engine train.

Could one retrace her trip to Germany? What about her travels from her country estate to Stockholm, where the diary chronicles societal balls and descriptions of hopeful suitors?

My sister Kerstin got equally excited about the possibility of following Augusta’s footsteps.

And so our own journey started – a journey to understand the life of a young, wealthy, Swedish girl in the mid-1800s.  You can read about our journey here and on Kerstin’s blog in Swedish. We hope you will embark on this journey with us.