"I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to be moving," Brian said from the doorway.
Startled, Nick pulled his hand away and let it fall onto the mattress beside him.
"Do you think it's a good idea to be making me jump then?" he retorted, registering who the voice belonged to.
Kevin, Alex and Hannah filed into the room behind Brian and gathered around the bed as Nick reached for the brace again.
"This thing is driving me nuts. It's too small or something."
"How are you doing?" Brian asked. "Other than that, I mean. Have you heard anything yet?"
"No, nothing," Nick replied, his eyes moving over his friends. "Where's Howie?"
"He's out of town for a few days," Kevin replied. "We've been trying his cell all afternoon."
"And my parents?" Nick asked.
"Leighanne and Kristin are calling everyone who needs to know," Hannah replied, taking his hand. "I'm sure they'll be here as soon as they can."
"Johnny's doing damage control with the press," Brian added. "You're all over the news."
Nick rolled his eyes and Hannah squeezed his hand.
"What about Cassie?" Nick asked.
His friends hesitated and exchanged worried glances.
"What?" Nick asked. "What's going on?"
"She knows you're here," Hannah replied. "We saw her about an hour ago."
"You saw her?"
"How was she?"
Hannah looked at Brian.
"She was good," he replied. "As good as can be expected, anyway."
"But she didn't want to see me?" Nick asked.
"She went back to her room to rest," Kevin replied. "You both need to be taking it easy."
Nick was about to reply when there was a knock on the door and a dark haired man in scrubs walked in.
"Sorry to interrupt," he began. "I'm Dr Barnett. I wonder if I could have a moment alone with Nick."
Kevin, Brian and Alex moved towards the door and Nick squeezed Hannah's hand.
"See you soon," he said quietly.
Hannah nodded and followed the others out the door. Dr Barnett closed the door behind them and returned to the bedside. Staring up at the ceiling, Nick felt his heart begin to race as the doctor picked up the clipboard hanging from the end of the bed and flipped through the pages.
"Everything here looks good," he said. "Your vitals are fine and your brain activity is normal."
"Plenty of people might disagree with you there," Nick replied.
Dr Barnett smiled, replacing the clipboard.
"I've taken a look at the results of your scans..."
Nick's heart pounded against the inside of his ribcage.
"The bad news is..."
"Wait a second," Nick interrupted. "Aren't you going to ask me if I want the good news or the bad news first?"
Dr Barnett hesitated.
"Sure. Would you like the good news or the bad news first?"
Nick blinked up at the ceiling, wondering what the bad news could be. Right now, he knew his legs were useless. Was he going to end up in a wheelchair? He tried to imagine his life without the use of his legs and what he saw terrified him.
"The bad news," he replied, steeling himself for the worst.
“Okay,” Dr Barnett replied. “The bad news is your spinal cord was damaged in the accident. There is some bruising and swelling around the lumbar section of your spine which is putting more pressure on the spinal cord and causing paralysis below the injury site.”
Nick swallowed hard. Paralysis. His legs were paralysed.
“And the good news?” he asked.
“The good news is the damage to your spinal cord itself could have been much worse and the swelling is a normal reaction to this type of injury. It will subside eventually and we have anti-inflammatory drugs which can speed the process up and help stop any further damage to your spinal cord.”
“What about my legs?”
The doctor pulled a pen from the chest pocket of his scrubs and moved to the end of the bed.
“You tell me,” he said, lifting a corner of the sheet and pressing the tip of the pen against the sole of Nick’s foot.
A smile tugged at the corners of Nick’s mouth.
“I feel that,” he said, the smile spreading. “I can feel that.”
Dr Barnett let the sheet drop and slipped the pen back into his pocket.
“You have what’s called paresis or partial paralysis,” he replied. “We won’t be able to tell for sure until the swelling around your spinal cord goes down, but I’m hopeful it will only be temporary. In many cases like this, the patient makes a full recovery. You were lucky not to be more seriously injured.”
Nick took a moment to process the doctor’s words.
“You’re hopeful it will only be temporary?” he repeated. “So it could still be permanent? I mean, I had no feeling at all in my feet when they brought me in here. It must mean something that I have feeling now, right?”
Dr Barnett nodded thoughtfully.
“It’s very promising, yes,” he agreed. “But, it doesn’t mean you will regain full use of your legs. Spinal injuries are complicated, Nick. No two cases are the same.”
Nick blinked at him and Dr Barnett lay a hand on his shoulder.
“We’ll know more when the swelling goes down,” he repeated. “Try not to get ahead of yourself. It’s one day at a time with injuries like this.”
Nick was silent and the doctor reached for his chart again.
“I’m going to organise for a physical therapist to come and speak to you about treatment options tomorrow morning,” he said, scribbling his signature at the bottom of the page. “Try and get some rest tonight.”
Unable to turn his head, Nick listened to the sound of the clipboard slipping back into place at the end of his bed.
“Could you ask Hannah to come in when you leave?” he asked quietly. “Just Hannah.”
“Sure,” Dr Barnett replied, his shoes squeaking on the linoleum as he moved towards the door. “I’ll be back in to see you tomorrow.”
Nick didn’t reply. Blinking up at the ceiling, he heard the door open and a muffled conversation in the corridor. Within a minute, Hannah was at his side, running her hand through his hair.
“What did he say?” she asked.
Nick looked up at her and swallowed hard before speaking.
“Close the door, baby. We need to talk.”