Days of Worry

If you have read my last post, you know that my aunt Carin sent me a few letters she found when she was looking through her things. The letters are from China, written by my great grandfather Robert and a colleague of his, who was also a missionary.

One of the letters – or perhaps accounts – was written on a very thin type of paper and stuck together with a second page, that at first glance seemed to be a unit. When I looked closer, it appears the second page has nothing to do with the first. Page 2 starts in the middle of a sentence, that is not a continuation from page 1. The first page is some sort of note or account, that was perhaps not meant to be sent as a letter. Instead, it might be more of a journal entry, to not forget something of importance.

The headline reads “My wife Dagny Bergling’s surgery” and the text entails a detailed description of the suffering Dagny went through and how it all played out.

It is not dated more than at the end, where it says: “today, the 29/2 at 11 a.m. we brought her home from the hospital and she cannot praise God enough for the love she has felt from the doctor’s, the nurses and her friends”.

I want to find out what year the note was written, so that I can put it in line with my other materials belonging to the life puzzle of my great grandparents. This date helps me understand that the surgery my great grandmother went through was during a leap year.

The famous Dr. Dipper
The letter reveals a name that can be of use in my research. The chief surgeon at the hospital was a man called Dr. Dipper. And the hospital Dagny was submitted to was the German Hospital in Beijing. Quickly checking for any information about when Dr. Dipper worked at the German Hospital, I found out that his full name was Edmund Dipper. He was a medical doctor and university teacher, who had lived between 1871 and 1933, and had passed away in Beijing.

Dr. Dipper had worked in China for many years and had both started a hospital in Tsingtau and a private practice as well as managed the German Hospital in Beijing. When China declared war on Germany in 1917, Dr. Dipper was only allowed to stay in the country because he was also teaching at the Medical School. After the war, Dr. Dipper changed the status of the hospital from military to civilian and the number of beds went from 20 to over a hundred in 1930.

Robert’s letter tells me he had great confidence in Dr. Dipper, who diagnosed Dagny with an inflamed appendix, that had grown into her other internal organs. The surgery would be risky, of course, but Dagny was decisive and said she wanted to get rid of it, no matter the outcome. And she had been suffering for a very long time. She had gone through several examinations and x-rays, but the other doctors had not found the source of her pain. Instead, they said she had problems with her nerves – a popular way to explain most ailments concerning women.

“…and the usual modern conclusion that her nerves were causing the pain, was presented,” writes Robert with a touch of irony. But he is also content that they did not find any traces of cancer, so far.

When the letter reveals that they had their daughter with them and I put that information together with the fact the surgery was undertaken during a leap year – I can be sure Robert wrote the account in the year 1928.

“ I spent the night before (the surgery) at the hospital, frightened that it could be the last one we had her with us. Dagny-Edla and I followed her to the surgery and then went to the room of sister Judith Hultquist to pray and wait.”

Dagny-Edla was the daughter of Dagny and Robert. She had been sent to back to Sweden in 1909 to go to school and live with a foster mother – the missionary friend Lotten Hagelin. But Dagny-Edla’s heart was in China and she was forever wishing to go out as a missionary and help her parents in the field. Unfortunately she had lost an arm, and no missionary society wanted to take responsibility for her as China was dangerous as it was, even with two arms. At some point Dagny-Edla had felt the calling to go out without belonging to a missionary society, and somehow everything had come together and made it possible for her to live her dream. (I will write more about Dagny-Edla in a coming post as her destiny was fascinating in so many ways).

In a book by Elsa Brännström (Carin’s sister), Dagny-Edla says:“On the very first day of 1927, I could go ashore in Hong Kong. It felt wonderful. Now I only needed to take the boat past Shanghai and then up to Tientsin.”

Therefore, the surgery could not have been in the leap year of 1924, but must have taken place one year after Dagny-Edla arrived in China in 1927.

Putting it together
Looking through the photographs I have from China, I knew I had seen one, where Dagny was in a hospital bed and Dagny-Edla was standing beside her, looking very serious, perhaps worried. I have no date for the photograph, and I am not 100% sure it is from China. I do think so though, as Dagny-Edla looks around 25-30 years old. If the photograph is taken in 1928, she would have been 28 years old.

Dagny lying in a hospitalbed with Dagny-Edla beside her. Dagny looks very taken, perhaps she is even sleeping.

More background
Browsing the letters I have found in the archives from the years 1927-1930, I found one where the surgery is mentioned. The letter is from a missionary colleague – Malte Ringberg – and dated 8th of February 1928. He writes that Dagny was taken in at the German hospital “today.” In fact, according to Robert’s letter, she was taken in on the 3rd and had the surgery on the 8th of February. But, at least I now have written confirmation that the year was 1928. Dagny was 59 years old.

The letter from Malte Ringberg, where Dagny is mentioned. It was a matter of great concern to all of their missionary friends.

The year of the photograph
Of course, I cannot be sure that the photograph is not from later – perhaps it could be from after 1930, when Dagny was in Sweden and Dagny-Edla came back to stay with her in the missionary home. But Dagny-Edla does look young in the picture. She went back to Sweden again in 1934 and would have been between 34 and 47 years if this is from a Swedish hospital, as she left for China again after WWII.

It is a blurry picture, but what do you think – could this photograph be from the German Hospital in China?

Somehow, I think it would be great to be able to combine the story about the surgery with a photograph from it. Also, if the photo is from this surgery, it is probably Robert himself, who has taken the picture. Full of worry, of course, and afraid for the life of his wife.

He writes:“when she finally woke up after the surgery, the pain was at its worse. She suffered for 4-5 days and could not sleep without sleeping pills. Eventually, her pains subsided, and she now seems to be free from her many years of suffering”.

After this ordeal, the couple had another two years together, before Robert died from heart disease.

7 thoughts on “Days of Worry

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  1. Poor Dagny! She must have suffered a lot, prior to the surgery, and then for some time after the surgery as well. I’m sure your theory about the photo is correct, that it was taken in China in 1928. Robert and Dagny-Edla were afraid Dagny might not survive the operation, so Robert took this photo, thinking it might be the last time he would see his wife alive. It’s a very touching story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, poor her. I am just amazed she had not died from that appendix long before she got the diagnose. She must have been in so much pain for so long. And I think you are right – as Robert writes he was really scared for her life, he would most likely have wanted to take a photo.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m happy both of you think this could be the photo! So lovely to be able to pair the letter with the photo. The look on Dagny-Edla’s face and the exhausted Dagny, do underline how scary and uncertain the outcome of the surgery must have been.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, she looks so vulnerable, I think. I’m trying to imagine her finally meeting her parents again, after many years, and then seeing her mother go through such difficult surgery. It must have been very hard for her.

          Liked by 2 people

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