Fever of Unknown Origin:
a True Tale of Medicine, Mystery and Magic
"This book is vivid and engaging, exploring the complexities of family, love, and illness."
Mary Allen, author of The Deep Limitless Air and
The Rooms of Heaven
In 1990, when Judith Ford was 42, she came down with a mysterious illness that landed her in the hospital for most of one summer while doctors struggled to keep her alive long enough to find a diagnosis and a treatment. She recovered after many months but she didn’t get a diagnosis until seven years later. What she had was called: Adult Onset Still Disease.
Fever of Unknown Origin
A medical mystery, this riveting and inspiring memoir by Judith M. Ford chronicles her journey
through a terrifying illness that nearly ended her life. She recovered through a combination of Western medicine and shamanic journeys. A few years later she helped her parents through their
final illnesses. This book is both her story and theirs, about how each of them maintained hope or
sometimes despaired. It’s about how they each suffered and rallied, laughed, loved, forgave, and let go. And it’s about how all of us live in the shadows of the unknown and the unanswerable.
At the time, she got sick she was successful psychotherapist with a relatively new second marriage, a full-time clinical practice, and three children, ages twelve, eleven, and eighteen months. She was also a runner, a yoga-practitioner, a dancer, and a writer. Eventually, she recovered enough to go home from the hospital and to slowly rebuild her life. It took months for her to wean off the medications and to regain her energy.
Two years after her summer in the hospital, Judith's mother suffered a massive stroke and was never again able to live outside a nursing home. Her father, now living alone in the apartment he had shared with Judith's mother, was in end-stage emphysema and had difficulty with everyday tasks like eating and breathing.
In the emergency room, on the day of her stroke, while her mother lay half-conscious and partially paralyzed on a gurney, she said to Judith, “Well, now you’ll have something good to write about.” Judith had no intention of writing her mother’s –or her father’s—story but little by little, the things her parents were dealing with in their final years began to parallel the things she had dealt with during her illness. They were facing (or not facing) their own mortality, their own losses, and doing what they could to control the uncontrollable.
Excerpt from Fever of Unknown Origin:
“After my illness and my parents’ deaths I saw, in a way I’d never seen before, that one day, now or later, I was going to lose everything that mattered to me. Everything that was a part of the tangled roots of my life, everything I was attached to, mixed up in, held close, everything I loved. When I paid attention—which I’m certainly not brave enough to do all the time–I saw what a huge risk it is to continue to love the world as strongly and as hungrily as I did. To love the people I loved as deeply as I did.
"That’s a tough vision to carry. Except that along with it, came this other thing, a kind of consolation prize. Right along with the sense of impending loss, I found I had an expanded view of the world, a mix of beauty and light that at times was so stunning it brought me to tears. Not all the time, but nearly every day, in one way or another, I run smack up against the insistent beauty of the ordinary, physical world.”
Want to learn more about Stills Disease?
About Adult Onset Stills Disease: Mayo Clinic
The big sick in The Big Sick, a movie with Zoe Kazan, Kumail Nanjiani, and Holly Hunter, is still a medical mystery: inverse.com
An episode of Grey’s Anatomy dealt with Stills Disease. Here's a recap: vulture.com
Go to the resources page of this website to learn more.