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Friday, 15 April 2011

Unbelievable, But True

By Johna Ferguson

This has happened to me only seven times in my life but the first and last were the most traumatic; the first because I didn’t know what to do, the last because I didn’t know how to get help.

The first time it happened I was getting up to make my children breakfast. As I sat up in bed, I yawned and it happened just like that. I couldn’t get my jaw shut; it was locked open.

I hit my sleeping husband and he woke up and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t talk and drool was beginning to flow down my chin. He asked if it hurt as tears flowed from my eyes. Of course it hurt like bloody hell.

He threw on a bathrobe and put mine on me and led me out of the house into the cold morning air. We crossed the street and he knocked on our neighbor’s door. A child answered and when my husband explained the problem she ran to waken her sleeping father.

John came out in his bathrobe to greet us and invited us in. My husband explained the problem and John asked his daughter to get two clean towels. He wrapped them around his fingers and put his fingers into my mouth to try to undo my locked jaw.

When that didn’t work, he went behind me and again put his fingers in my mouth and pushed down hard on my lower jaw and then pushed back and down, and hurrah, my jaw unlocked.

We felt lucky that our neighbor was dean of the medical school so he knew what to do. He told me to try to remember when I yawned, to not open my mouth so far.

After that I was really careful but it happened a couple more times in the next 15 years. Once I was in the dentist chair and he obviously knew what to do. And a few times at home, but my husband by then knew the procedure.

And then I moved to China. I was really careful, but I had married a doctor so I really wasn’t very worried about it happening; he’d know how to fix it. That is, until I was traveling alone from Beijing on the overnight train to where my husband was working.

I went second class so there were three-tier bunks on each side of the aisle. I had a lower bunk and for some reason woke up and yawned without thinking about it.

Wham-O. it happened. Oh, what to do? Everyone was sleeping and anyway I didn’t know them and none spoke English. I got up in my long johns to find the conductor in the compartment at the end of the car. I pointed to my jaw and told him, in my limited Chinese, I needed a doctor; I knew each train usually carried one.

He motioned for me to follow and we walked through six cars before coming to the dining car which was almost empty in the middle of the night. He shook his head which I guess meant no doctor.

But I saw two PLA (army) officers drinking beer at one table. I went over to them and showed them, through body language my open mouth and how it wouldn’t close. They finally got it.

I pulled one up by his arm and got a couple paper napkins from the table and wrapped them around his fingers; at that point I didn’t care where his fingers had last been. I had him stand behind me and I tried to show him how to push down hard with his fingers and then in and down again and with luck my jaw would unlock.

He tried and tried and finally on the fourth try it clicked into place.

Nothing for me to do but sit in my long johns and drink the bottle of beer they ordered for me, just like a celebration. I am sure they had fun the next day telling their fellow soldiers about their train ride experience with an old American lady in the middle of the night.

And that’s the end of the jaw saga. It scared me so much it hasn’t happened since.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Just reading about it scared the you-know-what out of me. I'll never yawn again.

Scary, yes. Cautionary, yes--like Marcia, I may never open my mouth again! You wrote it so well, Johna.

Wow, it makes the awful exchanges I hear once in a while "and you, keep that big mouth shut" all the more interesting and frightening..
Must say the middle of the night neighbor visit and the Chinese policemen on the train were delightful scenes..You got a lot of moxie is what they would have said on the ol' west side where I hail from! Thanks...

If there is one thing I like to do early in the morning it is to laugh. And you sure provided it this morning!

I'm sorry such an awful thing happened to you; it has to be exceptionally scary, but if you weren't such a good writer, I might not have needed to laugh.

Thanks for sharing, Johna. And I DO hope it never happens again.

Having been on filthy Chinese trains, I am dumbfounded that you allowed anyone to work on you. So I know how painful it must have been. Great story!

Interesting, frightening, and educational. I didn't know about jaw-locking. Thanks for the alert, and the good story that conveyed it.

THANK YOU, Johna, for your well told alert.

Great story, Johna..

No more yawning...ever..Just keep writing your super stories.

OMG! I feel like putting a bungee cord around my head to keep my mouth closed. And, of course, when you write about yaw2ning, that's what I want to do. I am practicing yawning with my mouth closed.

You had me gripping my seat reading your story! :) I hope that never happens to me. Sounds awful. But oh, the stories it's garnered for you.

Wow! A great and interesting story told well! Who knew such a thing could happen to one's jaw? I do hope that is the last incident where you are going to be scurrying for help. I'm glad you celebrated with a beer with your rescuers...that made it all somehow jolly. What an adventurer you are!

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