Danish doctor wants to 'correct' history on Napoleon's death

Danish doctor wants to 'correct' history on Napoleon's death

8th July 2009, Comments 0 comments

He was "lethargic and indecisive" during the fateful Battle of Waterloo, on 18 June 1815 that put an end to his rule.

Arne Soerensen, a retired Danish doctor with the looks of a British lord, flips through thousands of pages of notes scribbled over 50 years of research and issues his diagnosis: Napoleon died of a kidney disease.

Soerensen has dedicated his life to studying the French emperor's health to debunk the myth that he was poisoned by his enemies or suffered from stomach cancer.

Sitting in his library where more than 500 books about Napoleon line the walls, this kidney expert who became a big name in dialysis in Europe in the 1960s, says he wants to "correct" history.

In the latest twist in a long-running medical saga, Soerensen wrote in a new book "Napoleon's nyrer" (Napoleon's kidneys) published in May that the deposed emperor died at 51 of kidney and urinary problems that afflicted him for many years.

"I'm not a historian, I'm a doctor who's passionate about history and I have studied Napoleon's health from his childhood until his death," Soerensen says, casting a glance at portraits of Napoleon and his wife Josephine that hang on the wall.

The doctor, 82, explains that he has been fascinated by Napoleon for most of his life, "even if Denmark lost some of its territory and went bankrupt by being his ally."

From the time he finished his medical studies until now, Soerensen has "bought or borrowed a total of around 2,000 books on Napoleon," spending an average of "three to four hours a day studying them".

At his cottage in Aalborg, he shows off his "priceless treasure": his stack of papers with notes scrawled by hand "each time I read a book".

His wife Birte "patiently transcribed the notes on the computer for years," he says.

Napoleon was a man in a pitiful state

"He remembers all the dates of all of Napoleon's battles, but he can't remember the birthdays of his own children," she says with a gentle chuckle.

Soerensen says he shared his passion for Napoleon with his medical colleagues at the Aalborg hospital, and during coffee breaks he entertained them by telling them about the "important consequences" the emperor's illness had on the decisions he took on the battlefield.

Studying in minute detail the evolution of Napoleon's illness and his battles, Soerensen found a cause and effect link, detectable since Napoleon "decided everything" and his generals "were afraid of him and did not dare take any initiative."

"In all of his 60 battles, he had the same urinary symptoms that affected his judgement," Soerensen claimed, citing the Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812 as an example "where he was apathetic and absentminded."

Seriously affected by his illness, Napoleon was also "lethargic and indecisive" during the fateful Battle of Waterloo, on June 18, 1815 that put an end to his rule.

Napoleon had had health problems since the age of three.

Soerensen says that according to Napoleon's mother, he was "aggressive and difficult with his friends", and the doctor remains convinced that Napoleon had "urinary problems his entire life".

He suffered from a contracted urinary canal, chronic infections due to an atrophied bladder, a kidney illness and an obstruction of the urinary tract that caused a stomach ulcer and fatal complications. "This was a man in a pitiful state, but who hid his illness, like other great men such as former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt," who never appeared in public in his wheelchair.

"The final diagnosis has finally been made, but the patient is dead, and it's a real shame," Soerensen laments.

He pulls yet another book off one of the shelves in his library.

It's a history of the US civil war -- his new passion -- which he is reading "day by day".

Slim Allagui/AFP/Expatica

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