Out of Joint


Out of Joint

A Private and Public Story of Arthritis

Mary Felstiner
With a new afterword by the author

American Lives Series

222 pages
9 phtotographs


September 2007


$18.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

She begins, in the morning, by casing her joints: Can her ankles take the stairs? Will her fingers open a jar? Peel an orange? But it was not always this way for Mary Felstiner, who went to bed one night an active professional and healthy young mother, and woke the next morning literally out of joint. With wrists and elbows no longer working right, she’d discovered one of the first signs of rheumatoid arthritis, the most virulent form of a common disease. Out of Joint is her account of living through arthritis, a distinction she shares with seventy million Americans.
While arthritis pain affects one out of three Americans, this book is the first to tell the personal story of the nation’s most common yet neglected disease. Part memoir, part medical and social history, Out of Joint folds the author’s private experience into far-reaching investigations of a socially hidden ailment and of any chronic condition—how to handle love, work, sexuality, fatigue, betrayal, pain, time, mortality, rights, myths, and memory. Moving from the 1940s to the present, this story of one life with arthritis exposes little-known medical research and provocative social issues: alarming controversies over arthritis miracle drugs, intense demands concerning disability, and the surprising and disproportionate number of women affected by chronic illness. From this prize-winning historian comes a call for healing through history, a moving meditation on the way chronic conditions can be treated by enlisting the past.

Author Bio

Mary Felstiner is a professor of history at San Francisco State University and the author of To Paint Her Life: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era.


"Felstiner brings a feminist's eye and a historian's tool kit to this narrative of her decades-long struggle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a crippling autoimmune disease that afflicts more than two million Americans. . . . The book's total effect is powerful, and her major chords strike true: RA is a devastatingly disabling condition with steep private and public costs; its disproportionate effects on women have not been adequately addressed; its social, political, and interpersonal implications are significant. In the end, Felstiner's story is as much about the complexities of belonging—as a woman, a feminist, a Jew, an intellectual—as it is about her illness. So it has something to discover for any reader, pained joints or otherwise."—Publishers Weekly

"Felstiner proves not only an able historian but a powerful memoirist, deftly combining the private and the public. . . . Particularly compelling are her vivid accounts of how it actually feels to be her: not only the pain that can stop her from doing simple tasks or her problems with side effects of medications, but the tensions chronic illness can create in a marriage and the anxious fears that can flood the mind. . . . If chronicles of triumph over illness may be too upbeat a model for afflictions that worsen over time, Felstiner proves there is something to be gained from any experience, and something more to be gained from examining and writing about it."—Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times

"Our species likes to make sense of things, to find a story to explain even sickness, even storms. In Out of Joint: A Private & Public Story of Arthritis, history professor Mary Felstiner looks for her story within the larger story of her disease. Like many people visited by illness, Felstiner, diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) at age 28, wants to know why. In this artful and intelligent book, she examines this question from many angles—personal, medical historical. . . . Her candor and her research, as well as her sharp and graceful writing style, make Out of Joint an evocative and provocative read."—Frances Lefkowitz, Body + Soul

"Out of Joint is superbly written and a must for anyone wishing to better understand rheumatoid arthritis."—ForeWord

Out of Joint reminds us that the words we use as health professionals can have a profound negative effect on the recipient’s appraisal of the situation. . . . . This book is inspiring and easy to read.”—Sarah Ryan, Nursing Standard

Table of Contents

Part I. Getting Hurt
  Shock, 1969
  Tops, 1959-69
  Fatigue, 1971-74
  Promises, 1975-76
  Alternatives, 1979
Part II. Getting Wise
  Inflammation, 1980-84
  Immunity, 1985
  Shame, 1986
  Stiffness, 1987
  Distrust, 1987-88
  Morbidity, 1988
  Mortality, 1989
Part III. Getting Back
  Access, 1993
  Despair, 1993
  Moves, 1994-95
  Truths, 1996
  Pieces, 1996-97
  Wondeer, 1941-49
  Falsehood, 1950-59
  Pain, 1960-68
  Stress, 1997
Part IV. Getting Help
  Family, 1997
  Partners, 1998
  Time, 1998
  Revolution, 1999
  Rights, 1999
  Hands, 1999
Part V. Getting Past