Yancey: 'I'm Okay! Honest'
So many have called to express concern, and a few wild rumors have been floating around, so I thought it would be best to send out an "official" report of my accident on Sunday, February 25. I'm OK! Honest. Here are the details.
I had spent a lovely weekend in Los Alamos, New Mexico, speaking to a unique church that combines six different denominations. Janet traveled with me so much during the book tour these past few months that she felt obligated to stay home and do her duties at the senior center where she works, so I went alone. My New Mexico hosts met me in Taos for a delightful day of bam-bam bump skiing on Thursday, then we drove together to Los Alamos. It's quite a place, created in the 1940s for the Manhattan Project, and the fabled home of the atomic bomb. The town has more Ph.D.'s per capita than any place in the world. I had a fascinating meeting with some of the physicists and other scientists from the lab during which we discussed matters of science and faith and nuclear terrorism and pacifism and other weighty issues. Friday night I spoke on my book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?a very appropriate topic in view of what follows. Saturday I did a seminar consisting of three one-hour lectures and a book signing, and then took off early Sunday morning for Denver, where I planned to meet Janet for a friend's wedding.
I was driving alone on a remote highway, curvy but not too hilly, at about 65 mph. A curve came up suddenly and I turned to the left, perhaps too sharply. As you may know, Ford Explorers are rather notorious for fishtailing, and this one did. I tried to correct, but as best as I can reconstruct what happened, my tire slipped off the edge of the asphalt onto the dirt. That started the Explorer rolling over sideways, at least three times and probably more. Amazingly, the vehicle stopped right side up. All windows were blown out, and skis, boots, laptop computer, and suitcases were strewn over 100 feet or so in the dirt. I tried my hands and legs and they worked fine. I was able to unbuckle the seat belt and walk away. Within five minutes a couple of cars stopped and their occupants, Mormons on the way to church, called for help.
I had a lot of minor cuts and bruises on my face and limbs, but except for a persistent nosebleed, nothing serious. I did have intense pain in my neck, though. When the ambulance came, they strapped me into a rigid body board, taping my head still and immobilizing it with a neck brace. It took almost an hour to reach the town of Alamosa in southern Colorado.
Looking back now, I see so many mini-miracles that all contributed to a good outcome. The Mormons (two of whom were E.M.T. trained) traveling that route on a Sunday morning. The most experienced X-ray/MRI technician, normally off on weekends, filling in for a sick colleague. The E. R. doctor, featured that day on the cover of the local paper, a graduate of the University of Michigan med school who had just returned to his small town in Colorado to be of service. And, most of all, the injury itself.
Alamosa has no radiologist on duty over the weekend, so all images had to be modemed to Australia (where it was Monday morning, a normal work day) for interpretation. The images are so dense that the high-speed transmittal takes an hour, and then the diagnosis can take another hour. After the initial batch, the doctor came in with those prefatory words no patient wants to hear: "There's no easy way to say this, Mr. Yancey " I had broken the C-3 vertebra in a "comminuted" fashion. (I didn't know that word either; look it up and the dictionary says "pulverized." The good news was that the break did not occur in the spinal cord column itself. If it had, well, C-2 is where Christopher Reeve's break occurred, so you get the picture of what can happen up there. The spinal column has three channels, one for the spinal cord, and two for arterial blood supply, which is where my fracture occurred. The bad news was that due to the splintered nature of the break, a bone fragment may well have nicked or penetrated an artery.