Ashley Virgin
Ashley Virgin
Israel/Palestine 2016
Merhaba! My name is Ashley Virgin, and I am going to live in beautiful Bethlehem, Israel for six months. While in Bethlehem, I will work with WI’AM Conflict Resolution and Transformation Center where I will teach English and arts classes to children. I will also take part in other areas of community development in the city through WI’AM. I am excited to participate in the city and culture of Bethlehem and learn more about the nonviolent conflict resolution and social justice programs that WI’AM sponsors. Read More About Ashley →

How to Travel across the Atlantic Ocean with a Broken Jaw

Exactly a week from today, the wires come off, and I will finally be able to open my mouth! Soft foods are in my future! I cannot wait to be able to touch my tongue again. I’ll still have rubber bands keeping my mouth stabilized, and I’m told to expect lots of muscle pain and jaw stretching exercises in order to build back my jaw muscle and open my mouth as wide as I could pre-break. In other words, I’ve still got a ways to go in my recovery process, but being able to open my mouth, even if it’s only a little bit initially, will be an amazing feeling.

To recap my last post, I broke my jaw after fainting in my apartment in Bethlehem. After an entire day spent receiving a diagnosis and medical attention, I decided my best option was to travel back home for surgery. This was the truly difficult part. I traveled alone for nearly 24 hours, on and off three flights, with a broken jaw.

I arrived at the airport at 10 PM, toting one suitcase, a carry on and a backpack, my chin affixed with a large bandage covering stitches. Apparently my appearance made me stand out because a woman from security immediately walked over to me and asked if I would come with her. We walked to a desk where she and another man questioned me for 30 minutes on how I had spent my time in Israel. Looking back now, I am grateful they picked me out of the crowd like this. There was a long line of other people departing Israel behind me, and because they pulled me aside, I skipped the line altogether. But at the time, I was annoyed, in pain, and afraid that they were going to make me miss my flight. After what felt like hours of questioning, during which I told them multiple times that I had a broken jaw, that I was in pain, and that it hurt to talk, I finally received a wheelchair and they let me proceed. I had a representative from AirFrance escort me through the rest of airport security in a wheelchair.

I had a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris, another from Paris to Atlanta, and then a final flight to Nashville (Which was my favorite – only about 40 minutes long). I would be traveling for a total of 22 hours, about 16 of which were spent in the air.

People say funny things when they learn you had a nearly 24 hour-long international flight with a broken jaw. The following are a few of them:

Wow, you’re so brave.

I have some friends in Bethlehem who are much more brave than I am.

You must have a high pain tolerance.

Maybe. I’ve never had the opportunity to test it before now.

Did the air pressure change hurt your jaw?

Everything hurt my jaw. Talking, smiling, swallowing, eating, yawning, not moving at all.

What did you eat?

Lucky for me, airplane food is somewhat conducive to not being able to chew. I cut eggs into tiny bites and picked bread into bird-like crumbs. I managed.

Were you able to stand in line/go through security in that pain?

The only good part about being in a wheelchair in the airport is that you get to skip to the front of the lines in security. When I landed in Atlanta, my wheelchair access was the only thing that got me through US customs and to my gate for Nashville during my short 1 ½ hour long layover. I would have missed my flight had it not been for my amazing escort there who rushed me through security. At times, I felt guilty for using the wheelchair and getting to cut line like that, but I reminded myself that I was injured. Even though it wasn’t visible to most people, I was in pain and I needed the assistance.

 Could you sleep at all?

I actually slept quite a bit. The dentist in Bethlehem gave me a prescription for muscle relaxers. While they did not relieve any pain, they did make me drowsy. I was also exhausted from sleep deprivation and the frantic day of doctor visits. I dosed off and on for most of the 10-hour flight from France to Atlanta.

The details of the flight home are fuzzy to me now. (Popping muscle relaxers and Ibuprofen while enduring pain from a  bone broken in two places tends to have that effect.) But I remember getting off the plane in Nashville. I felt relief mixed with crushing disappointment and a lurking sense of culture shock. I felt like I was trudging through jell-o as I made my way down the terminal, past people speaking English and ads for Jack Daniel’s whisky and the Grand Ole Opry.

I’m not supposed to be here. I have both thought and said this many times since I landed in the Nashville airport that day. This sentiment dims or exacerbates depending on the day and what I’m doing at the time, but it’s always there, marking everything I do while I’m here recovering. It is only recently that I’ve recognized that I need to add an amendment to this statement. I’m not supposed to be here, but I am now and I should make the best of it.

I’ve come to learn first hand how an illness or injury can take a toll on a person’s psychological state. I’ve had some low points over the past month since I’ve been home because a) I am ALWAYS hungry, b) I can’t eat anything that I need to chew and liquid food gets boring and is generally not as tasty as food you chew, c) I can’t open my mouth at all which means I haven’t brushed the inside of my teeth or licked my lips in three weeks, and d) I miss Bethlehem and feel like I’m missing so many good things happening at my organization and in town (International Peace week, my English class, the kids, a few festivals, hiking trips, the olive harvest, etc). But over this month, I’ve found ways to vent my anger and sadness. There are lots of things you can still do with a broken jaw. I am grateful that I can talk, even though it’s a little muffled. Once the pain subsided, I started to drive again and go out in public with my friends (which is almost normal except that I try to avoid events where food is involved). I’ve also been reading a lot more and doing yoga almost every day. Even something as silly as going for a drive and singing along through gritted teeth to My Chemical Romance like I did when I was an angst-riddled 8th grader really helps.

Maybe breaking my jaw wasn’t a part of the plan, and maybe I wasn’t supposed to be in Nashville in September and October. But I’m accepting that this interruption is all a part of my (atypical) Lumos experience. And breaking my jaw is a valuable experience outside of its relation to my travel and internship. Experiences don’t have to be positive to mean something; sometimes, painful times in our lives give us more significance (more lessons, more drive, more “meat,” or whatever you call it) than times that are prosperous, easy or fun.

Next time, I’ll reflect on some of the challenges I’ve faced over the past month with my jaw wired shut and some things I’ve learned about myself through this unintended addition to my Lumos experience.

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