Abominable ulcers, open pores and a new tissue: Transforming the skin in the norwegian countryside, 1750–1850

Anne Kveim Lie

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In June 1781 the physician Nicolaus Arbo, practising in the district of Strømsø in eastern Norway, received a letter from a chamber councillor in the neighbouring county of Telemark.2 e councillor requested that Arbo take compassion on two poor, single male peasants, whom he had met in a ‘most miserable and lamentable state’. Both of them had been discharged from the hospital as incurable, and they now dwelled in a tiny peasants’ hut, entirely ostracized by the community, which feared infection. e councillor3 pitied these two unfortunates, and their ‘utterly deplorable fate’ had triggered his request to the physician. One of them, named Hans, was thirty-six years old. His health had begun deteriorating ve years earlier, and the in rmity reappeared a few years later, with ulcers in the throat and under the nose. Eventually the whole lower part of the nasal cartilage and most of the upper lip were completely destroyed by the disease. He looked ‘extraordinarily repulsive’, but his health was otherwise good. e other, John, was thirty years old. His su ering had commenced three years earlier with ulcers in the throat and loss of the uvula. He had also contracted a disease of the chest, and his speech was severely impaired due to shortness of breath and increasing hoarseness. e colour of his face was pale and yellowish. e chamber councillor requested a physician’s judgment and promised to cover the medical expenses personally. Arbo, the physician, examined the ‘wretched’ patients and proclaimed that although their recovery was uncertain, he nevertheless wished to commence treatment. Hans was prescribed several medicines, including pills and drops, to cleanse the blood. John received Ethiopian pills, a decoction of sarsaparilla root and sassafras, juniper and china bark. e treatment had a striking e ect. Two months later both patients were declared ‘happily cured’. ey resumed their usual work and were ‘thereby once more included in the community’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationA Medical History of Skin
Subtitle of host publicationScratching the Surface
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781317319542
ISBN (Print)9781848934139
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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