In an article for Christianity Today he describes a horrible car crash and how he came to this truth on February 25, 2007.
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. 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. …
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.
"We have a jet standing by if needed to airlift you to Denver," the doctor explained. "We'll do another MRI, this time with an iodine dye solution to reveal any possible leakage from the artery. This is a life-threatening situation." …
I went in for the iodine-dye scan, and then was left alone to wait for the transmission to Australia and the results.
In all, I lay strapped onto that body board for seven hours. The emergency room was quite busy that day, mostly crying babies. I had plenty of time to think. I've done articles on people whose lives have been changed overnight by an accident that left them paraplegic or quadriplegic. Evidently I had narrowly missed that fate; and I mean narrowly—my break was about one-half inch from the spinal cord. However, if my artery was leaking, an artery that feeds the brain, or if it threw a clot, well, a fate worse than paralysis awaited me. …
As it happened, thank God—oh, yes, thank God—the results were far better than either of us could imagine. The MRI revealed no arterial leakage. I was released within half an hour of my wife Janet's arrival, fitted with a rigid neck brace that will keep my head from moving for the next 10 weeks or so. If all goes well, the vertebra may heal back appropriately on its own; if not, I may need surgery down the road.
Nine weeks after his car accident, Yancey was invited to speak to Virginia Tech students in the wake of the tragic campus murders committed by Seung-Hui Cho in mid-April. In the midst of his sermon, Yancey reflected on the accident and offered these words of insight, putting pain in perspective:
I'm wearing a neck brace because I broke my neck in an auto accident. For the first few hours as I lay strapped to a body board, medical workers refused to give me pain medication because they needed my response.
The doctor kept probing, moving my limbs, asking, "Does this hurt? Do you feel that?" The correct answer, the answer both he and I desperately wanted, was, "Yes. It hurts. I can feel it." Each sensation gave proof that my spinal cord had not been severed. Pain offered proof of life, of connection—a sign that my body remained whole.
In grief, love and pain converge. Cho felt no grief as he gunned down your classmates because he felt no love for them. You feel grief because you did have a connection. Some of you had closer ties to the victims, but all of you belong to a body to which they belonged. When that body suffers, you suffer. Remember that as you cope with the pain. Don't try and numb it. Instead, acknowledge it as a perception of life and love.
Philip Yancey, "I'm Okay! Honest."
Absence of pain seems the best option over experiencing suffering and pain, but as Yancy shows us there is a purpose for pain. Pain indicates life. Numbness can be a sign of no life. Jesus Christ suffered; He wept; He was angry without sin; He loved ardently; He lamented the state of Israel...He showed us Life lived Best; and He showed us how to suffer in ways that please Father God.