Monday, April 1, 2013

I Can’t Stop Looking At My RA Hands

“…My hands are small, I know
But they’re not yours, they are my own
But they’re not yours, they are my own…”

-         “Hands” by Jewel

RA hands.  Kind of like jazz hands.  But not.  Not even close.  Just the opposite.

Jazz  hands are excited, fingers splayed and moving fervently.

RA hands are hands that can barely be splayed at all.  They are stiff, bulbous, sometimes deformed.    

It’s only recently that I’ve begun to notice the occurrence of bulbous joints.  And to me, not only do they feel bad, they look gross.  My fingers look like little sausages, no definition at the joints, just puff. 

I think that for those who do not have RA, they take for granted all that their hands do.  And you don’t realize how much they do and how important they are until your function becomes limited.  Then you realize that your hands are a key instrument in daily life.

Hands are also a measure of time. 

There’s a Celtic wedding tradition, The Blessing of the Hands, or Hand Blessing, the origin of which I am not completely sure.  I’m not Celtic, but I love the words and the meaning:

These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future.
These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other.
These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief fills your mind.
These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and tears of joy.
These are the hands that will tenderly hold your children.
These are the hands that will help you to hold your family as one.
These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it.
And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.

Like I said, I love the words and the sentiment, but at the same time, it makes me sad.  If you look at my hands, at least with respect to the fingers and joints, they look beyond their years, like I’ve been toiling laboriously for many, many more decades than I have actually been alive.

In reality, my hands tell a story, the story of RA.  It starts at the tips of my fingers and moves along, taking stock of the changes that have taken place in the rest of my body.  Wrists that lock and pop, elbows that do not have full extension anymore, shoulders that balance the weight of  the world, hips that lock and smart, knees that support this body, just barely sometimes, and toes that are genetically defunct.  But it all begins in the hands.      

For now, my hands function despite the bulbous joints, but it’s sometimes hard to hold a hardcover book, I struggle with doing and undoing buttons, and opening jars. 

A writer needs her hands to write, and I won’t let that get taken away because that is all I have.  The pen is mightier than the sword.  The person is mightier than the illness.  I have to stay one step ahead, or one finger ahead. 

Sometimes, if I stare long enough at my hands, I can see the minute changes that are happening.  I can see the passage of time.  And it all starts at the hands. 


  1. I had a Celtic wedding ceremony - we had the reading that you quoted above, and a handfasting. Ironic, since I didn't know I had RA yet. Who knew what problems those hands would have!

  2. love that blessing!

    We took some shots of my sister's hands and mine on the weekend (more on that later) and I saw what my hands would have looked like without RA. She has really beautiful hands. It hurt a bit to see it.

    Still, my hands offer love every day and they get me through the day. And they helped write a book, although my voice did most of the work. Remember that being a writer is about more than typing - you can get around that. And you have everything else you need.

  3. I loved this post. I feel the same way about my hands - they are starting to look deformed and "swan" and I see the toll my RA has taken everyday right in front of me.

    Thank you for sharing.