Broken Bones, Mule Rides, and Jordanian Ambulances

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I’ve met some people who have never broken a bone.  These people impress me.  What grace!  What poise!  I’m in awe of their ability to travel through life fracture-free.  I, clearly, am not one of these people.  As I sit here typing this I’m nursing not one, but two broken toes.  In the epic battle between girl and coffee table, this girl lost.  Last night I received the news that they might have to re-break one of the toes because it isn’t healing correctly and is more than a little bent out of shape.  Literally.

Altogether, I have broken five bones in my lifetime.  I’m kind of impressed that my number is still limited to one-handed counting.  But when I compare myself to those whose score is zero, I’m forced to acknowledge that I’m a bit of a klutz.

Exhibit One: My Trip to Petra

A couple of years ago I was living in the middle east and preparing to teach to teach a two-week intensive college class.  A couple of days before the class began the president of the college decided to take another professor and myself on a trip to Petra.  (For those of you a little behind on your world geography, Petra is a city of beautiful ruins carved out of rose-colored stone.  It’s most famous for the Treasury . . . you know, that building you see in Raiders of the Lost Ark.)

Petra is a place of astonishing beauty.  The incredible craftsmanship that has held up for centuries is truly remarkable.  We wondered through the ruins, soaking it all in.  Then my two athletic friends decided we should hike up the mountain to see the Monastery.  To clarify, the Monastery is not really a monastery.  It was an ancient building probably originally used as a temple to a Nabatean god or king, but at one point a group of Christians used it–possibly as a place of worship, a hermitage, or  hide out.  During that time they carved crosses into the beautiful rose stone.  The Monastery sits on a mountain overlooking the rest of Petra’s “city.”  The hike is a long one–about an hour from the city center.  It includes about 800 steps roughly carved out of the mountain’s stone.

Although the Monastery is a truly breathtaking site (arguably rivaling the more famous Treasury), anyone who knows me knows I wasn’t jumping on the bandwagon to hike up a mountain in the hot desert sun.  But the guys were all for it.  And honestly, how often does one get to see such sites?  So I sucked it up and started climbing.  I’m sure that one hour hike almost doubled in time with me along for the journey.  On a scale of one to ten, my athletic ability is about a negative seven.  But eventually we made it.  And they were right–the site was amazing.  We wandered around the Monastery for a bit, and then sat down to rest in a restaurant perched at the top of the mountain.  Unfortunately, what goes up must go down . . . in more ways than one.

Although the hike up was long and tiring, the hike down was actually the more dangerous one.  I was slow–well, even slower than normal.  I knew with my talent for injuring myself I should be careful.  Plus, I was suffering from an allergic reaction to a medication which made my legs and ankles swell up to three times their normal size.  Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t figured out that the medication was causing the swelling.  My friends were joking about how slow I was, and the president, who was traveling behind me, decided that he was going to go around me so he could move faster.  I told him that only meant I would fall on him instead of in front of him–replacing his chance to laugh at me with a chance for me to take him down.  He laughed that he would just catch me.

I swear to you, the words had no sooner left his mouth, than I misplaced my foot on the stone step, twisted my ankle, and came crashing down.  Only I didn’t land on him–I fell off the path and landed in a ditch.  Thanks for catching me, buddy.  It hurt like crazy, but I tried to shrug it off.  I tried to stand up and immediately fell back down.  I knew this pain–this was broken bone pain.  So there I was, sitting in a heap on the side of the mountain, tears streaming down my face, looking like a really dumb tourist.  Yes, thank you, we Americans are fat and out of shape and can’t handle your crazy Jordanian mountain with 800 stone steps.
The president immediately switched into problem-solver mode and began shouting out Arabic phrases I’d never heard before.  (Which, considering the extent of my Arabic vocabulary, isn’t really saying that much.)   Pretty soon he had wrangled up a young man who rented out mules for the American tourists too fat and out of shape to climb the mountain.  (Where were you an hour ago, mule-handler?)  Between the three of them, they managed to somehow get me on that mule.  And then we started down the mountain again.  Every step was agony.  Each time the animal took a step it jarred my ankle and sent shock-waves of pain up my leg.  To make matters worse, somehow in my fall I had managed to rip my khakis.  And not just a small little tear in some obscure place.  Nope.  This is me we’re talking about.  I ripped those suckers in a nice “L”shape about 6 inches tall along my upper thigh.  On the left leg.  Which just happened to be the leg next to the young Arab man who was standing beside the mule, guiding it down the mountain.  In a culture where you never show your upper thighs to a man, unless you’re married to him.  One small tear in Amanda’s pants; one great humiliation for all mankind.
By the time we finally reached the bottom of the mountain, an ambulance had arrived.  I was bundled into something that resembled more of a pick-up truck with a cap than a sterile medical vehicle.  It was so short that the stretcher inside was only about four feet long, and I had to curl up on my side.  The shocks were non-existent, and every bump and rock in the city of Petra was another agonizing jolt of pain.  When I finally reached the hospital a team of doctors and nurses rushed me off to an x-ray tech who determined that yes, I had broken my ankle.  They whisked me away to a large room where they proceeded to cast my leg.  They didn’t bother to wash off the three inches of pink dust that had somehow soaked through my khakis and caked on my leg, instead it was trapped inside my cast for the next few weeks.  Within an hour I was released.  I couldn’t help thinking that if I were in the U.S. I’d still be in the waiting room.  Of course, on the downside, they released me without any walking aide.  No crutches, wheelchair, cane . . . nothing.  I couldn’t walk on my cast (which was still wet), so it was up to my two friends to stand on either side of me and serve as my human crutches.

We made it back to the car and decided to call it a day.  We headed back down the highway on a two hour road trip to the hotel the college was meeting in.  Of course, in all the excitement of the day, no one had eaten dinner.  Although I was more than ready to forgo the meal (giant tear in my pants=inappropriate dress for a middle eastern dinner), my friends were both starving.  We stopped at the Jordanian version of a truck stop to eat.  My “human crutches” helped walk me inside as I tried to hide my naked leg.

We were finishing up our meal, when I realized something very, very bad.  I had to go to the bathroom.  And we were at least an hour from our destination.  I was in so much pain and so unsteady in my hopping abilities, that I couldn’t move more than a foot or so without help.  NOOOOOOO!!!!!!

And so it was that two men had to walk me to the ladies bathroom in a middle eastern restaurant, wait for an attendant to clear out the bathroom, and yes . . . walk me to the stall.  They waited outside and then had to come back and help me hobble over to the sink.  As Inigo Montoya would say: “Humiliations Galore!”

Eventually I made it back to the hotel where I could hide my head in shame.  Finally, after a few days a nice lady who had recently recovered from hip surgery graciously lent me her cane.  I hadn’t even turned thirty and I was already walking with a cane.  That cane became my trusted companion for the next month–traveling all the way from Jordan to Dubai to Uganda and back while my ankle healed.   But that’s another story.

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