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A history lesson

En historie om den spedalske Marthe.

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It’s the last lesson on Friday. Class 9D have Norwegian history. The history teacher is talking something about when the leprosy epidemic was here in Norway in the beginning of the 17th century.


-I want all of you to close your eyes and make yourself comfortably. Imagine you are in the 17th century in the town called Bergen. There was a hospital, the St. Jørgens Hospital, which was opened in 1555 for patients who were suffering from leprosy. The story I want to tell you takes place in the year 1807 when the hospital had approximately 135 patients. At this time there was no doctors, the only person who knew a little bit or nearly nothing was the priest, Johan Ernst Welhaven.


There was one patient, she was called Marthe Andreasdatter. She was 15 years old and a patient in the hospital. One week ago she got told that the dark spots she had in her face and body were the symptoms of leprosy. She has just got brought to the hospital, is scared, and doesn’t know anyone there.


She is laying in a dirty bed, can’t sleep although it’s in the middle of the night. Listens terrified to the conversation the to men at end of her bed are having. Suddenly she hears her name being brought in to the talk. "....Marthe Andreasdatter ... three weeks... too ill... least likely..."


"Are you sleeping girl?" whispered a kind voice from above. "Are you hungry?" Marthe had had a horrible night. It was hurting everywhere. She tried to sit up in the bed. Couldn’t. "Easy now girl, we wouldn’t want you to get this cough all the others are having, would we?" Marthe looked around in the small room. There were five patients in the same room as her, but the room was just made for two patients, it was surely overcrowded. She was so exhausted after the horrible night, that she just closed her eyes and wished she could be in a better place. Because she hated this so much. She wanted to go back home. She missed her father. One tear fell down on the dirty sheet.


The next two weeks her spots are getting bigger and bigger. They have grown to be big abscesses now. They cover her whole body. Marthe can’t see anything because big abscesses has grown all over her eyes. Yellowish liquid is running from her eyes, like tears.


She couldn’t think of anything but the eight words she had heard the first night. In approximately one week or so she would die. She was too weak.


The nights were the worst. Because then another woman in the same room was just talking about how God had abandoned all the people in the hospital. She was cursing everyone who tried to speak to her. Marthe had no strength left from the sleepless nights, small amounts of food and listening to the angry woman.


The angry woman made Marthe think trough life. Why? Why her? Is God punishing her? Maybe it’s God’s will. Maybe it’s her destiny. Maybe God has planned that she had to die in this overfilled room with just sick people, who wasn’t getting any better.


The old woman died just a couple of days later, and she suddenly knew that she would probably be the next.


The other patients’ coughs was getting worse. Hers too.


And when one person died, a sicker one came in, and made everyone worse.


One day, exactly three and a half weeks after the day Marthe Andreasdatter came to the hospital, she died.


-So pupils, do you think this was a true story? the teacher asks. Nobody answers. Everybody is just sitting there, a few is sleeping, but the majority is still awake.

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