I haven’t written in two weeks. This is only because every time I thought about writing this post, I imagined myself sobbing while typing.
Two weeks ago, I broke my jaw in Bethlehem. Now, I’m back in Nashville with my jaw wired shut. Over the next few posts, I’m going to take you all through what happened in between and where I am now.
On the morning of September 9th, I got out of bed around 3 AM to go to the bathroom. While walking, I fainted and fell face first onto the stone floor in my apartment. Bethlehem is replete with stone; there are stone floors, cobblestone streets, stone houses, and so forth. They are historic, they are beautiful, and as my chin, jaw, and teeth found out that night, they are HARD. I came down on my chin, busting it open. When I came to, I saw blood on the floor and felt shards of teeth in my mouth. Luckily, one of my colleagues, Amber, was spending the night with me, sleeping on my living room couch only a few feet away from where I’d fallen. She must have woken from the sound of my body hitting the stone floor because when I came to, she was crouching next to me and helping me up.
I must have been in shock at this point because all I could say to her was, “I don’t know what happened,” and “I broke some of my teeth.” Amber put me back in bed, butterfly bandaged the gnarly gash under my chin, and gave me a bag of frozen broccoli from my freezer to put on my face. “We’ll go to the ER in the morning,” she said. We both thought it wasn’t that bad. I might need stitches for the cut. I would definitely need to get my molars checked out, maybe I would lose a couple teeth but I could get implants. Nothing major. It would all be handled in Bethlehem, or maybe we would have to go to Jerusalem. I could wait to tell my parents, no need to worry them unnecessarily. I would use my travel medical insurance and everything would be fine.
When I woke up about two hours later, there was blood on my pillowcase from my chin. I had what felt like an earache in both ears. I also realized I couldn’t open my mouth more than an inch. I pulled out my phone and started looking up symptoms of a broken jaw. My symptoms were all there, broken teeth, swelling, pain in the ear canal, jaw stiffness or difficulty opening and closing, jaw moving to one side when opening.
I started to cry. I had a broken jaw. This wasn’t going to be fine.
I called my host family. I called my parents. Plans were made. We would go to the hospital when it opened in two hours.
My host brother and I went to a hospital in Beit Sahour at 7 AM. They looked at my cut, stitched it up, and took an X-ray of my jaw. The doctor reviewed the X-ray and said that my jaw wasn’t broken. We were elated, but I was still in pain. Maybe it was just bruised? I got a prescription for an antibiotic for the cut.
We went to a dentist next. When I opened as wide as I could to let the dentist look at my molars, I felt my lower jaw pop out of place and to the right a little. The pain was excruciating, and now I could not close my mouth all the way. Not only that, but my bite was completely off centered had my jaws been able to come together. While inspecting my teeth, the dentist said in Arabic to my host brother, “She has such beautiful teeth, and she’s completely wrecked them.” He told me that he had been a dentist for twelve years, but he had never seen anything this bad before. Whatever was wrong with my jaw would have to heal before he would be willing to work on my teeth, the pain would be too much. The dentist believed my jaw was broken. He referred us to an oral surgeon in town who could give us a second opinion about it.
Amber and my host brother came with me to the oral surgeon. The dentist and oral surgeon set me in a chair and again looked in my mouth. After reviewing my X-ray, the surgeon told me that my jaw was indeed broken. I had broken both condyles, and the left side of my jaw was also dislocated – the condyle was not only broken there but had slipped out of its socket, too. It would require wiring my jaw shut, which he scheduled for me the next morning. But nothing could be done about my teeth yet.
Here’s a diagram of the human jaw bone, for reference:
At this point, I was sleep-deprived, in pain, and terrified that I was going to lose all of my top molars. I wanted another opinion. I could feel that my teeth were literally split and rubbing against my tongue, starting to cause blisters. If I was going to have to have my jaw wired shut for up to 6 weeks, I was afraid they would get infected if I didn’t get them out beforehand. They were also incredibly painful; I would have gotten them all pulled just to stop the pain. I wanted a second opinion.
We went to Wi’am to wait for a friend of my host family to take us to a Jerusalem ER via his car. All of the staff were there and had heard about my accident. They sat with me and worriedly asked what happened, was I in pain, what did I need, and so on. I reassured them that we would figure this out, and I would be okay.
Around 4 PM, we made it to the hospital in Jerusalem. They did not ask me what was wrong, but instead immediately handed me a form/contract to sign saying that I would have to pay them $1200 USD before being admitted. I would have to pay it up front, and my insurance would reimburse me later. They launched into questions regarding where I was staying. They wanted an Israeli address, which I could not supply. I told them I was living in Bethlehem, in the West Bank. They then began to ask our friend, who was translating for me and had taken me to the hospital, questions directed at him, about where he lived, and so forth. He wasn’t the patient, I was. I have no doubt that the questioning was because he was Palestinian and we were coming from the West Bank.
Frustration, anger, exhaustion, and pain finally culminated at this very moment. We had been seeing doctors all day, trying to figure out what was wrong, and the bad news just kept getting worse. I had been holding it together and trying to stay positive, even making jokes about my broken jaw with my friends as we went from hospital to hospital. But I had finally hit my breaking point (no pun intended). I started to tear up as I realized that I really needed to just go home. I have no doubt that my host family would have taken excellent care of me, made me soup and stayed with me after the surgery. But in that moment, I just wanted to be home. As childish as it is, I really just wanted my mom.
Things moved faster after that. After talking with my host family and friends, they agreed that leaving was the best option. I cried, but my friends found a way to make me laugh, even then, by making jokes about not needing deportation when you can just break foreigner’s jaws to get them to leave. We left the ER and went back to Bethlehem. Amber looked up flights and booked one for 1 AM that night. My host brother and sister helped me hastily pack one of my bags and told me that I could leave the rest of my stuff behind, that this was my apartment and it will still be mine when I came back. They called me a taxi and we hugged. I barely had time to say goodbye to them, but at 9 PM that night, I was in a taxi, staring at the familiar storefront lights trailing by outside my window as I left Bethlehem. It all happened so fast, in the span of 24 hours I had gone from perfectly fine, living, working, and making friends in this city that had become my new home to fleeing my new home as fast as possible, in pain, broken jawed and broken hearted.
I still don’t know why this happened. I used to think that everything happens for a reason, but now I’m not so sure. Sometimes, bad things happen, and there is really no reason for them. What I do have a new appreciation for is how fragile we actually are as humans. Being a healthy 22 year old, this is something I never had to think about before. As upset as I am to have my time in Bethlehem suspended and to have my jaw wired shut, I am blessed that the fall was not worse. I very easily could have broken my skull or neck. As for the fainting, the doctors tested my heart and ran a CT scan, all of which are good. We think that I may have just gotten up from bed too fast or had low blood sugar at the time. I am fortunate to be in good health other than my jaw. I am also truly blessed by my people in Bethlehem, my family, friends, and the staff at Wi’am, who did everything they could to help me that day and get me on the plane to go home. The love and concern they gave that day kept me safe, and the support they continue to show me keeps me positive even in my worst moments. I can’t wait to get back to them and Bethlehem once I heal.
I’ll continue with the story of my flight home, my surgery, what it’s like to have your jaw wired shut and fractured/missing teeth, feelings regarding having your plans interrupted and your life turned upside down, and the misery that is an all-liquid diet in the posts to come. The wires holding my jaw completely shut will (inshallah) come off October 12th. Then I will have rubber bands put in and I’ll be able to have soft foods (Scrambled eggs!!!!! Mashed potatoes that aren’t watered down to liquid form!!!!). Timetable for the rubber band-wiring is still up in the air. So it looks like I will be in Nashville for a month more, maybe longer. It depends on when I heal, if I can get the wires cut off in Bethlehem, and so on, all things I’m in the process of figuring out.
I don’t know when I will be able to chew. I don’t know when I will be back in Bethlehem. But I do know that I will do both again, hopefully soon. Again, inshallah.