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The Curious Case of Karolina Olsson, The Sleeping Beauty

Karolina Olsson Sleeping
The case of Karolina Olsson is bizarre and remains unsolved

There have been numerous cases of people slipping into comas, locked-in syndrome, etc, but falling into hibernation is something relatively rare. Yet, this is what happened to Karolina Olssen in 1876. This bizarre tale is set on the island of Oknö, nestled near Mönsterås, Sweden. A young girl, plagued by the woes of a toothache, tucks herself into bed one ordinary evening in 1876. Little did she suspect that her slumber would rival Rip Van Winkle’s duration! Karolina was born on October 29, 1861, as the second eldest among six siblings, all of whom were boys. Her mother, a capable household manager, instilled in Karolina the value of contributing to the family’s daily affairs. Consequently, Karolina received her early education at home, where her mother diligently taught her the fundamentals of literacy. It wasn’t until the late autumn of 1875, at the age of 14, that Karolina embarked on her formal schooling journey.

Karolina Olsson Falls Asleep

After scarcely a month of attending school, Karolina found herself in an unexpected predicament. While walking home from school with her brothers one day, she slipped on thin ice, and fell rather hard on her head. However, she was remarkably alright, and according to sources, rebounded back to good health in a couple of days. Unfortunately, she began to lament a toothache and a sense of discomfort a week later. Concern quickly spread among her family, who speculated about the possible influence of witchcraft or malevolent spirits. Instructed by her mother, Karolina retired to bed, persisting in her complaints of toothache but exhibiting no other symptoms. Yet, when she drifted into slumber, she entered a profound and unyielding sleep from which she did not awaken. For 33 years.

Karolina’s father, a struggling fisherman, faced the daunting reality of being unable to afford medical care for his ailing daughter. In the absence of a physician, the family turned to the town’s midwife for guidance. Karolina’s devoted mother, recognizing the gravity of the situation, took it upon herself to provide constant care for her daughter, administering two glasses of milk daily in a bid to sustain her. As time wore on without signs of improvement, the compassionate neighbors rallied together to alleviate the family’s burden, pooling resources to secure a doctor’s visit. Despite the medical intervention, Karolina remained ensconced in her unyielding slumber, leading the attending physician to diagnose her condition as a coma. Undeterred, this dedicated doctor continued his vigil over Karolina’s bedside for a year, his efforts culminating in a heartfelt plea to the editor of Scandinavia’s premier medical journal, seeking the collective wisdom of fellow professionals in devising a remedy for Karolina’s persistent sleep.

Karolina Olsson house

The house of Karolina Olsson

In 1892, a glimmer of hope emerged in the form of Dr. Johan Emil Almbladh, who journeyed to Mönsterås to undertake Karolina’s case. Determined to cure her, Dr. Almbladh orchestrated Karolina’s transfer to a hospital, where he embarked on a meticulous observation of her condition, determined to unlock the mystery shrouding her prolonged slumber. During her hospitalization, Karolina’s condition remained alarmingly static, as she languished in a near-stuporous state, devoid of speech and unresponsive to external stimuli. The medical team’s efforts to rouse Karolina from her profound slumber proved futile, despite their vigorous attempts to elicit a response. Resorting to desperate measures, they shook her, shouted into her ear, and employed various stimuli, yet Karolina remained ensconced in a deep coma, impervious to their endeavors. Undeterred by this obstinate state, Karolina’s mother intervened, administering sustenance in the form of milk and sugar, a testament to her unwavering maternal devotion

As Karolina’s condition persisted, the decision was made to transfer her to a hospital, where more intensive interventions could be pursued. Here, the medical team employed electric shock therapy in a bid to awaken her dormant consciousness. However, despite these aggressive measures, Karolina’s slumber persisted, defying the expectations of her caregivers. In a final attempt to elicit a response, they resorted to pricking her fingers, hoping that the sensation of pain would jolt her back to awareness. The medical team concluded that the most pragmatic approach was to ensure a balanced and consistent dietary regimen. However, even this adjustment failed to elicit any significant change in Karolina’s condition.

In a perplexing turn, the attending physician labeled Karolina’s condition as “hysterical,” ultimately diagnosing her with dementia paralytica upon her discharge. This diagnosis, typically associated with advanced syphilis, seemed incongruous given the absence of evidence suggesting such an affliction. Following a month-long sojourn at the infirmary, Karolina was discharged and returned to the familiar confines of her home. Astonishingly, it would be another three decades before she received another medical evaluation. Indeed, it wasn’t until 1908—32 years after she initially succumbed to slumber—that Karolina would awaken and undergo further examination by a physician.

Did Karolina Olsson Suffer from Dementia Paralytica?

General paresis, also known as general paralysis of the insane (GPI), paralytic dementia, or syphilitic paresis, stands as a formidable neuropsychiatric disorder within the realm of organic mental afflictions. Stemming from the late stages of syphilis, this condition manifests through chronic meningoencephalitis and cerebral atrophy, distinguishing it from mere paresis, which can arise from various causes and typically spares cognitive function. The degenerative impact of GPI predominantly targets the frontal and temporal lobar cortex, marking it as a grave concern among individuals afflicted by syphilis. Originally misconstrued as a form of madness stemming from moral laxity, GPI came into focus during the early 19th century. However, its definitive link to syphilis emerged in the late 1880s, heralding a new era in understanding and addressing the condition. The subsequent advent of organic arsenicals like Salvarsan and Neosalvarsan in the 1910s, followed by the introduction of pyrotherapy in the 1920s, marked significant strides in combating GPI. The watershed moment arrived with the widespread availability and utilization of penicillin in syphilis treatment during the 1940s, effectively rendering GPI preventable and curable.

Prior to these medical advancements, GPI stood as an inexorable death sentence, claiming the lives of countless sufferers. Its toll was particularly pronounced, with GPI accounting for up to a quarter of primary diagnoses among residents in public psychiatric institutions, underscoring its devastating impact on affected individuals and their families. During Karolina’s illness, the scarcity of trained psychiatrists posed a significant challenge to comprehensive medical evaluation. With such specialists predominantly tied to state mental health institutions, access to their expertise remained limited. Despite occasional interactions with journalists, no thorough investigation was conducted into the circumstances surrounding Karolina’s affliction or the subsequent recovery.

Karolina Olsson After Waking up

Olsson on 14 April 1908, just a few days after she purportedly awoke from three decades of hibernation

It wasn’t until two years after her awakening that Dr. Harald Fröderström, hailing from Stockholm, undertook the arduous task of unraveling the enigma surrounding Karolina’s ordeal. Dr. Fröderström diligently gleaned insights from Karolina’s family, learning from her brothers that she had remained bedridden throughout the years, never once departing from her slumbering state. However, an intriguing revelation emerged from Karolina’s father, who recounted rare instances where she displayed unusual behavior. On a handful of occasions, he witnessed Karolina moving about on all fours, and on at least three instances, he heard her utter words. One such poignant moment occurred when she sat upright in bed, crying out, “Good Jesus, have mercy on me!” before retreating under the covers. These sporadic occurrences offered tantalizing glimpses into Karolina’s mysterious condition.

Karolina’s mother stood as her steadfast caregiver, attending to her needs with unwavering devotion. Despite the family’s belief that Karolina sustained herself on a meager diet of two glasses of milk per day, she displayed little interest in other food offerings, except for an occasional fondness for caramels, which she abstained from when under observation. The household housekeeper, while never hearing Karolina speak, occasionally caught glimpses of her emotional distress through cries and wails echoing from her room. Left largely to her own devices during the family’s farm duties, Karolina’s presence seemed to exert a subtle influence on her surroundings, evidenced by occasional shifts in objects within her room.

Tragedy struck in 1905 with the passing of Karolina’s mother, prompting an outpouring of grief from the typically silent Karolina. However, despite these emotional outbursts, her overall condition remained unchanged. With the matriarch’s absence, Karolina’s father assumed the role of caregiver, diligently attending to her daily needs and ensuring her sustenance. Yet, despite his efforts, Karolina’s health continued to decline, rendering her increasingly frail and bedridden.

Karolina Olsson Awakes from Her 32-Year Sleep

On April 3, 1908, a pivotal moment unfolded in Karolina’s long slumber when the housekeeper discovered her on all fours, weeping upon the floor. When sternly directed back to bed, Karolina’s poignant query echoed through the room: “Where’s mother?” This heart-rending plea marked a significant departure from her previous silence, hinting at a stirring awakening within her consciousness. However, her recognition of her brothers faltered, with Karolina expressing disbelief at their grown stature, recalling them as small children. Karolina’s physical state mirrored her prolonged deprivation, with a pallor reminiscent of starvation and evident signs of severe undernourishment. In the initial days following her awakening, weakness plagued her movements, and she recoiled from the harsh glare of light. Despite these physical challenges, Karolina surprised her caregivers with her voracious appetite, eagerly devouring meals with newfound gusto.

Remarkably, Karolina’s cognitive faculties remained intact, allowing her to recollect memories of her school days and church visits. She even resumed participation in household chores, displaying a resilience that belied her protracted slumber. Curiously, however, she showed no inclination to delve into her past or inquire about the events surrounding her illness, including her mother’s passing. Dr. Fröderström’s assessment revealed Karolina to possess above-average intelligence, boasting literacy skills and knowledge of her country’s royal figures. Yet, gaps in her geographical awareness, such as being unable to locate Stockholm on a map, hinted at the peculiarities of her cognitive reawakening.

Fröderström swiftly dismissed the notion of Karolina enduring total hibernation for over three decades, citing the implausibility of her surviving without sustenance for such an extended period. Instead, he posited a theory of psychosis precipitated by a traumatic event, driving Karolina to retreat under her blankets as a coping mechanism. In this narrative, her devoted mother played a pivotal role, aiding Karolina in perpetuating the illusion of her slumber to family members and relatives. Despite appearances, Karolina remained fully conscious throughout her ordeal.

The family’s assertion that Karolina subsisted on a mere two glasses of milk daily for 32 years can only be reconciled with the existence of a clandestine caregiver who tended to her needs discreetly. This caregiver operated covertly, shielding Karolina’s existence from the scrutiny of others. The marked emaciation following her mother’s demise suggests a departure from her previous care regimen, potentially exacerbating her physical decline.

Karolina Olsson unseen pictures

Karolina Olsson, after she woke up from her slumber

Karolina’s saga bears striking similarities to the well-known case of Ellen Sadler, who purportedly slept for nine years. Like Karolina, Ellen was tended to by her mother, who sustained her with a regimen of port wine, tea, and milk while warding off prying eyes. Following her mother’s passing, Ellen’s care fell to her sisters, whose efforts may have faltered, leading to Ellen’s mysterious awakening five months later. These parallel narratives underscore the complex interplay of familial devotion and clandestine caregiving in cases of prolonged unconsciousness.

The multitude of theories surrounding Karolina’s extraordinary ordeal underscores the perplexing nature of her experience. Some contend that she genuinely fell into a coma, sustained by sustenance beyond mere milk, while others posit darker narratives of abuse and trauma, suggesting that Karolina’s prolonged slumber was a means of shielding herself from a harsh reality. Whether she endured a medical anomaly or suffered at the hands of abuse, Karolina’s awakening after 32 years remains shrouded in mystery. The enigma surrounding Olsson’s prolonged slumber has sparked speculation regarding the true nature of her condition. Despite appearances, certain anomalies, such as the apparent lack of growth in her hair, fingernails, and toenails, have raised questions about the veracity of her hibernation.

In 1910, psychiatrist Dr. Frödeström encountered Olsson and subsequently penned a paper on her case, titled “La Dormeuse d’Oknö – 21 Ans de Stupeur. Guérison Complète.” However, his analysis was circumscribed by the notion of hibernation, failing to fully capture the complexities of Olsson’s situation. Subsequent revelations unveiled that Olsson experienced intermittent periods of wakefulness, during which she exhibited emotions of sorrow and anger. Frödeström hypothesized that Olsson may have believed herself to be gravely ill, adopting a passive stance to garner sympathy. Moreover, conjecture abounds regarding the role of Olsson’s mother, who purportedly aided her and maintained the facade of hibernation.

The true extent of Olsson’s conscious awareness and the degree of her mother’s involvement remain shrouded in mystery, leaving scholars and observers to grapple with the elusive truth behind Olsson’s decades-long slumber. Remarkably, Karolina’s life continued for another four decades following her awakening. Those who knew her attest to her industrious nature and zest for life, bearing no visible scars from her prolonged ordeal. Despite the uncertainty surrounding her past, Karolina’s later years were marked by contentment and a steadfast dedication to living fully.

Next, read about the story of How Mateo Ventura was Scammed By the FBI, and then, About the Latest Creepypasta on the Internet, The Human Latch!

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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