LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Don't say ''I can't'' around Emmett Cox, who made liars of doctors who thought he wouldn't survive a horrifying bicycle crash. He endured 25 operations and became a doctor himself.

''I've used my own self-esteem and determination to get where I am today,'' said Cox, 35, intern of the year at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center. ''I've had a lot of setbacks in my life, but I'm not going to let that get to me.''

His determination also earned him a residency in the hospital's orthopedic surgery unit over dozens of other top medical students nationwide.

In August 1978, the only question was whether Emmett Cox II would live.

He was pedaling his bicycle near the St. George's Medical School in Grenada, where he was in his fourth semester. He collided with a school bus, crashing through the windshield. His friends thought he was dead.

His nasal bridge was gone. So was his forehead. His upper jaw was broken, his teeth shoved to one side of his face. The outer covering of his brain was exposed, and a piece of glass was lodged in one eye. Hardly anything was left of his face.

Days later, he risked a look in the mirror. He thought he was hallucinating.

''I looked grotesque,'' he said.

After initial surgery on Grenada, Cox was flown to a Miami hospital. Lying bandaged in bed, his leg in traction, he heard his father crying in the hall.

''The doctor said, 'It looks very bad. If he's alive tomorrow morning, he's lucky,''' said Cox. ''I said, 'No way is this man going to tell me I'm going to die. I'm going to prove him a liar.''

Seven operations were performed in Miami. Since returning to Los Angeles, his home since 1972, he's had 18 more, the most recent in May.

Infections have hampered his reconstructive facial surgery, which requires bone grafts. Ribs were used to form his forehead. He needs three more operations to scupture a nasal bridge and remove facial scars.

His nose is bumpy from loose skin that eventually will fold over the new bridge, and his left cheek is sunken.

An old ID card shows a handsome, smiling Cox. At first, after the accident, he said, ''My outward appearance bothered me. I stayed in a lot.''

But it didn't keep him from medical school.

''Don't express the words 'I can't.' I'm not a quitter,'' he said.

Three years after the accident, he transfered as a limited graduate student to the University of Southern California, where he graduated in June 1984.

''I don't think it's a prerequisite to have to suffer pain to be a better doctor,'' he said, but he draws on his experience in treating patients.

''I try to have an open ear and understand their problems,'' he said. ''I tell them just because they have a disease, it doesn't mean it's going to take them to their graves.''

Cox says he always intended to be a doctor and credits his mother, Minnie, and father, Emmett, for supporting his dream. He also credits God and especially his wife, Lee, 33, an accountant.

''If you want to ask me what brought me through this accident, Lee Cox did. Without her, I couldn't have really coped.''

Lee takes their children, Emmett III, 6, and Efrem, 2, to the hospital cafeteria on Sunday afternoons for lunch with Dad.

''My wife was a faithful one,'' Cox said. ''Even though I look different, my wife still loves me like she did before.''