The Unexplained: The Big Sleep

Karoline Olsson went to sleep after a fall into an icy stream, hit her head, and did not wake up for more than three decades.

She grew pale and weak but did not age for the thirty-two years and forty-two days she was in a state of deep sleep that no one could explain. 

A girl was born in Sweden in 1861 that lived a sad but remarkable existence.  Karolina Olsson was one of five children.  The rest were all brothers and she was the second oldest.

At age fourteen, Karolina had a bad accident.  In February of 1876, she was returning home alone and made the mistake of attempting to cross a frozen stream.  She slipped on the ice and hit her head –various reports said that she also broke through into the icy water at a deep spot and was partially submerged for a moment.

She was able to pull herself up and stand and make her way home.  She had hit her head hard, she explained, but her parents looked her over carefully and could find nothing serious wrong, except for a few scrapes and bruises.

After the accident, she was not taken to a doctor in the nearby town of Okno.  Her parents were too poor.  They lived a no-frills life of fishing and farming, and they resided in a one-room cottage.  They barely got by.

When Karolina complained of headaches and an awful toothache, the parents sent her to bed and resorted to folk remedies to try to make her get better.

She fell asleep and did not wake up.  They sought the advice of a midwife in the nearby village.  Her mother began slowly administering milk and sugar water to the unresponsive girl.  She got two glasses of milk down her a day, by force-feeding, but it was a long process as the girl was not responsive.

Neighbors felt bad for the family and the girl, so they collected money to take her to a doctor.

Sara Marie Hogg

His conclusion?  Karolina was in a coma.  He continued to make visits to the home to check on the girl for a year.  The concerned doctor began a writing campaign to different medical specialists to see if they would consider looking into the case of Karolina Olssen.

Could anyone find a cure for her state of constant sleep?  Many prominent doctors made trips to the Olsson’s house.  They all documented that her hair, fingernails, and toenails were not growing.  Her appearance stayed the same for years as if she was in suspended animation.  Some have called her condition, hibernation. 

She seemed to have discovered the fountain of youth somewhere there in dreamland, but she could not enjoy her youthful beauty.

She stayed asleep.  There were rare occasions where she would sit up in bed and chant prayers memorized during childhood, but those events were few and far between.

In 1892, one prominent doctor was convinced Karolina had a type of hysteria.  He talked the family into letting him take her to a hospital in Oskarshamn where she could get electroconvulsive therapy.  These controversial treatments did nothing to improve her situation.  She did not even wake up.

The hospital doctors did tack on a new diagnosis: dementia paralytica.  This was probably not her true diagnosis, but with a diagnosis given, the doctors backed off for a while.

As Karolina continued to sleep, her mother continued to feed her two glasses of milk every day.  When her mother died in 1904, a woman that provided the household help stepped up and did the feedings of milk and sugar water.  She cared for the bedridden Karolina where the mother left off.

In 1907, one of Karolina’s brothers died.  Although no one told her this bad news, somehow she knew and began crying pitifully—she was still in a coma.  The caregiver did not ever hear her speak during the time she cared for her.

Then, one day in 1908, the caregiver heard Karolina crying and when she checked on her, she was jumping up and down.  Her brothers came to visit her because of this new development, but she did not recognize any of them.  She had grown pale and weak.

Light bothered her eyes, but she was fully awake and cognizant after thirty-two years and forty-two days of being in a state of sleep.  She had a hard time speaking because of her weakness, but her speech was soon back to normal and she could do everything she could do before her sleep state, including reading and writing.

She agreed to testing and was proven to be in complete possession of her faculties.  She was now forty-six years of age.  She looked to be in her early twenties.

Karolina Olsson later died in old age, at eighty-eight.  She had an intracranial hemorrhage.  She was able to have forty-two years of normal life after her deep sleep.

Her condition—thought to be one of a kind—has never been adequately explained by medical science.  It is still a big mystery.

Please click HERE to find Sara Marie Hogg’s intriguing mystery, It Rises from the Pee Dee, on Amazon.

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