Kari Nilsdatter Spidsøen (1884-1884)

Kari was born on July 17, 1847, at Øvre Spissøy farm, which is now located in Bømlo municipality. She was the eighth child of Nils and Brita, but two of her older siblings had already passed away when she was born. Kari’s parents owned the farm themselves, but they were facing financial difficulties and had to divide the farm and sell half of it a few years before she was born in order to make ends meet.

Kari’s upbringing is not well-described anywhere, but we can assume that being one of many children in a poor farming family on the west coast of Norway must have been tough. The family was also heavily affected by leprosy. Both the father, stepfather, and three half-siblings of Kari’s mother had leprosy, and when Kari was four years old, two of her older siblings were also registered with the disease. By the time Kari was seven years old, she already had three younger siblings.

In 1856, a few years of extreme misfortune began for the family of eleven. The eldest son, Nils, at the age of 23, died of leprosy while still living at home. The following year, the two sick siblings, Synneva Christine, aged 22, and Øystein Johan, aged 12, were sent to Pleiestiftelsen in Bergen. In 1858, the eldest sister, Brita, was also registered as having leprosy and sent to Pleiestiftelsen as well, while the older brother, Mikkel, moved away from the village. In three years, Kari went from being the sixth of nine children in the household to being the oldest of four. She was then eleven years old.

Things didn’t get better for the family over the years. In 1859, the farm was sold at a forced auction, and they became tenants on the property. Two of the siblings at Pleiestiftelsen, Synneva Christine and Øystein Johan, passed away in the summer of 1861. The youngest of them was only 15. The district physician in Finnås kept a close eye on Kari, as she had three siblings with leprosy, and in 1863, she herself was registered with the disease. At the age of 15, just after her confirmation, she left her family to live where two of her siblings had recently died, at Pleiestiftelsen in Bergen.

At “Pleiestiftelsen”, Kari’s adult sister Brita was still there, so the 16-year-old had at least one person she knew among the 300 patients. She lived in one of the seven-person rooms, and her days were filled with work and routines. There were four simple meals a day and fixed times to get up and go to bed.

In 1868, Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen became the new physician at the foundation. That year, Kari developed necrosis in her leg, and it was probably the new doctor who performed the amputation. Like many leprosy patients, she gradually experienced more health problems as the years went by. Her fingers became crooked and disabled. Open sores and scar tissue. Partial paralysis in her face.

When Kari was brought into Hansen’s office in 1879, she was 32 years old. She had spent half her life at Pleiestiftelsen, and she had known Hansen for 11 years. Her sister Brita had been with her all the years in Bergen, but Brita had passed away just over a month earlier, and now Kari was alone.

After the trial against Hansen, it may have become uncomfortable for her to continue living at Pleiestiftelsen, where Hansen remained closely associated even though he was no longer the physician there. She applied to be transfered to here at St. Jørgens and lived in one of the patient rooms in this building until she died in 1884. She was 36 years old at that time, and had been living in institutions since she was 16.