Past Midway Ramblings on Business & Life

Dislocated Jaw

I play a pick-up soccer game with the neighborhood guys a few days per week. It’s one of my favorite activities and helps keep me in shape.

A few months back, I kicked the ball to make a pass, but the ball ricocheted off another player’s knee and smacked me square on the chin. You might say I kicked the soccer ball into my own face.

After a few seconds of brain fog, I recovered and continued to play. Thirty minutes later, I decided to quit because my jaw was swelling and hurting more with time. I also noted my bite seemed misaligned. I just sort of had that feeling… the one you get when something isn’t quite right. You know the feeling.

Some things in life have a characteristic introductory feeling, an indication that something is off:

  • Getting Sick – there’s a specific moment when you first notice that slight metallic taste or a certain subtle rawness in your throat when you swallow. Just a hint to make you think, “I might be getting sick”. You don’t feel sick, not yet, but you have that feeling. Something isn’t right. You swallow a few more times to double and triple check.1 Hard to say for sure, but something is not quite right. You know because you have that feeling. Probably getting sick.
  • Getting Robbed – maybe you are walking down an urban sidewalk in an unfamiliar city. Everything seems normal. Meaning, you didn’t give your surroundings much thought (more precisely, you continued to filter out almost all the incoming data from your surroundings to pay attention to something specific, like a nice conversation with your spouse). Suddenly, the vibe changes, discordant, and the timing syncopated compared to the “normal” moments just prior. You perceive a mood change. This is that feeling again, just moments before two random strangers rob you. They appear abruptly, take your money, and disappear into the shadows of the evening just as quickly. Somehow, you knew something was off, even before you saw the perpetrators. That feeling.2
  • Getting Hurt – parents have a keen intuition of impending calamity while watching the kids play. Sometimes you get that this-isn’t-going-to-end-well vibe.3 Kids fail to understand why parents intervene before the accident happens and someone gets hurt. To the kids, it’s just ruining the fun, at peak fun. To the parent, it’s disaster avoidance, foreshadowed by that feeling.

These are but three examples of that feeling of something being off.

Anyway, back to the story…

When I got home, it wasn’t just that something felt off, something was off. Most notably, my jaw.

A quick mirror check revealed my lower jaw protruding out too far and my bite offset one tooth-width to the left. I remember my teeth being aligned before soccer that evening so that’s not right.

I did a little research online for this condition. Most likely a dislocated jaw, although this diagnosis might have been obvious from the misalignment.

Next stop, YouTube… where everyone goes to learn how to fix everything. I wanted to understand the procedure the doctor might do to reset my jaw, assuming it was dislocated and not broken.

Brief Pause to Discuss Pain Tolerance

When the topic of pain surfaces in a conversation, everyone says, “I have a high tolerance for pain.”

Like this is some badge of honor instead of a statistical joke.

Self-assessed scores on subjective matters always contain an inherent bias, skewed favorably to the person rendering the score.

The topic of pain is no exception.

This is a good place to note, I am counterculture on this point. I do NOT have a high tolerance for pain. I don’t even like discomfort. Uncomfortable and below is where I prefer to camp, circumventing words like agonizing and excruciating in favor of tender or perhaps sore. Can’t I still build character with these softer words?4

This is precisely why I wanted to watch a few videos… to ascertain the level of pain I might need to endure, should I go to the doctor. YouTube could provide pre-game videos and mental preparation for my impending discomfort.

The main point here being, I’m all about pain avoidance, if possible.

Resume Story

So, I watched a few videos. Each highlighted some poor chap, sitting in the doctor’s office, jaw awkwardly protruding and noticeably misaligned, much like mine.

To say the patient was sitting might be an exaggeration. More like spineless slumping. They were doped up on some type of sedative. Loopy, but still vaguely coherent, like the people you see on the car ride home from wisdom teeth extractions. They were upright, but in a limp, ultra-relaxed fashion.

Turns out, this is an important point… to be relaxed, as we will soon learn.

In each video, the doctors described the procedure to the person taking the video. The doctor’s audio paraphrased like this:

“I put some gauze over my thumbs because the teeth are sharp. Put my thumbs in the mouth and press down on the molars while wrapping my fingers around the outside, underneath the jawbone. Then, push down (quite hard), until the jaw comes out-of-socket. Center-align the jaw with the face and push the jaw back into place. When the jaw inserts into the socket properly, it clicks… an audible clue of correct alignment.”

In one episode, a family member asked, “Why sedate the patient?”

“Because it’s difficult to get someone to relax their jaw enough to allow you to pull it completely out-of-socket. The natural tendency is to resist by clenching the jaw.”

This is called biting. And I can imagine this is not a good outcome for doctors’ thumbs. Anyone’s thumbs really.

After a few videos, I thought to myself,

Well, that doesn’t look so difficult…

Pause to think this through.

except for the sedative part.

Calculate and consider.

I could save some time and money and just give this a go myself.

Counterpoint…

Unless my jaw is broken, then this procedure would likely make it worse.

Pause to feel along my jawbone. Felt fine.

Screw it. Let’s give it a shot.

I folded some paper towels (poor man’s gauze), placed my fingers in my mouth on my back molars, and wrapped my thumbs under my jaw.

If this sounds exactly backwards from the video description, it is… because my arms are also attached to the patient. I’m therefore facing the opposite direction, compared to the doctor.

I pulled down, as instructed. Slowly. Then harder. Harder…

“Ahhgh!”5

Those videos probably should have had a “Don’t try this at home” warning.

At this point in the story, you’re thinking,

Is Andy really that cheap?

Yes, I am.

I was also surprised by the considerable force required for this medical maneuver. It’s not like you can “put your weight into it,” when you do it to yourself.

The trick here, I found, is to relax the jaw while simultaneously fighting the urge to bite my own fingers, so they’ll stop doing that to my face. It’s a mind-feat to pull hard with one muscle group (arms and fingers) and simultaneously relax another muscle group (the jaw). For some reason, we often clench our jaw when flexing hard elsewhere in our bodies. Consequently, this took multiple attempts to ramp up the learning curve. I should also note…

It is rather uncomfortable.

Once the jaw dropped out-of-socket, and it’s fairly obvious when this happens, I just pushed it back in to place. Sure enough, the right side audibly clicked like a door latch upon closing. It instantly felt better. No sedative required! And my bite seemed almost back to normal. I figured the “almost” part was due to minor swelling from general trauma to the region.

I ate mushy foods that evening because my jaw was quite tender and still uncomfortable to open my mouth.

The plan: Go to bed. Sleep it off.

Unconvinced it was properly aligned the next morning, I tried the procedure again and set the left side, like a pro. Click. After that, my bite went back to normal alignment, and all was well.

I must say, I’m quite proud of my medical work.

Don’t try this at home.

The Point

Normally, I would want this story to lead to some greater life-lesson and thus remain true to this blog’s theme. But alas, no greater philosophical insight evolved here, unless you create one in the comments below.


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FOOTNOTES:


  1. You just swallowed reading this paragraph, didn’t you? Me too, and I wrote it. I’m not sick. Nor are you. But are you sure?
  2. This is a true story…when my wife and I were in Washington DC, years ago.
  3. This is a continual parental mode when the kids are little.
  4. This is an interesting question because I frequently wonder if I could weather the misfortunes others have endured. How could I know? Because, to date, I have lived a rather charmed, pain-free life – both physically and emotionally. Might I have missed some of life’s greatest lessons in exchange for what seems like the random chance of comfort, a statistical anomaly amongst any cohort one might sample.
  5. The “g” in that expression denotes a tinge of pain, not just grunting from the effort.

11 comments

  • This is hilarious Andy! I saw so much of myself in your description of your thought process. I so would have attempted to do the same. I feel cheap as well…or should I say I feel youtube empowered.

    My daughter cut her head. 1 cm long cut that needed closing. A few youtube videos later I used her hair to pull the wound together and covered it with some superglue I had lying around. Proud of my handiwork and saving the inevitable 5 hour wait in A&E, I went online to buy some medical grade superglue if it happened again. A week later my son sliced his finger badly while whittling with a pen knife. The new tube of superglue had arrived just in time.

    *You could question the ethics of my actions given I wasn’t treating myself, but before that let me add in my defense…1. this was during the first coronavirus lockdown in the UK when people were told to avoid going to hospitals unless necessary. 2. I spoke at length with my brother who is a doctor on the phone who said this is exactly would they would do and explained the procedure.

    Thanks for the story.

  • “Is Andy really that cheap?

    Yes, I am.”

    Made me laugh out loud. You may be that cheap but you must factor in the thirst for knowledge and understanding of one’s own body and self.

    Good story

  • What a story! For a guy who tries to avoid discomfort, your willingness to even attempt this is amazing! And to do it twice! haha I’m going to share this with my son who is an ER PA at NY Presbyterian hospital. He’ll be impressed!

  • Obviously, I already knew the story. What you failed to mention (& I failed to ask) was what did the other soccer guys do? I remember watching you play recently when a player went down. The game stopped briefly before one of the guys yelled, “Where’s a doc when you need him?” General hilarity ensued, & it was pointed out to me that fella who was down WAS the doc! I suspect you were the brunt of a similar comment. Happy you guys have such fun. Good story, Andy.

    • Much of the (good-natured) verbal abuse I got at the time is not appropriate to write on a blog my mom reads. Suffice it to say, you got the general sentiment of the group right.

  • Couldn’t you just smack your jaw onto post like Riggs does on “Lethal Weapon”? That would probably work.

  • This story is very funny! I don’t think you gave yourself enough credit for bravery. No way would I have tried that procedure!

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