Katherine spent the next day in the hospital, sitting with Allen whenever he was awake. Several other doctors joined Dr. Hansen in examining Allen’s legs, and nurses were constantly in attendance, dealing with Allen’s dressings and handling his other needs. Finally, Dr. Hansen came into the room and sat down to talk with the two of them.
“I have some good news and some bad news for the two of you.” She started. “The good news is that the burns on Allen’s legs are healing quite nicely. Burns of the type he received used to mean months of skin grafts and surgery to repair the burned area. But now with healgel we can cover the burned area and new skin will grow on its own. I would estimate that Allen’s legs will be completely healed in another two weeks or so.”
“That sounds great.” Allen replied. “So what’s the bad news?”
“As you are aware, since your bandages held your legs together for so long, the new skin and other tissue grew together. It will require an operation to separate them again.”
“So when will the operation happen?”
“We want your body to recover completely from the burns before proceeding with such a major operation. So you will need to wait at least two months before we proceed.”
“Two months! I thought you said the burns would be healed in two weeks!”
“In two weeks all of the open wounds on your legs will be covered with tender new skin, but your body has suffered a major trauma, and it will take quite a bit more time to fully recover before we do such a major procedure.”
“So I’ll be stuck in a wheelchair for two months?”
“Yes. And we want you to build up some muscle in your legs, so you will need to spend some time with a physical therapist. At first, it will be painful, as the therapist will want you to bend your knees and feet, and some of the new tissue will probably tear and bleed. But if you don’t move your legs, the new tissue will grow in the wrong places, and you will lose the ability to make those movements.”
“I guess that all makes sense.”
“Good. Your nurse will have a schedule for you. You’ll probably need to stay in the hospital for the first two weeks, after which you can move home or to a rehabilitation facility.”
The physical therapy started that afternoon. Beth, his physical therapist, came to his room pushing a wheelchair. The first thing she did was teach him to move himself from the bed into the chair. She pushed the chair up next to the bed and he had to sit on the edge of the bed and then use his arms to lift his body and transfer it to the chair. After practicing the move a couple of times, Allen could tell that his arms would need to be strengthened almost as much as his legs. Beth made him roll his own wheelchair down to the physical therapy gym. The room did not look much like a traditional gym. Allen recognized a few familiar items, like the weight machine and a normal treadmill, but there were other less familiar items as well, like the set of stairs and the treadmill with adjustable hand-bars alongside. For his first session, Beth had him sit on a padded bed and simply bend his knees and ankles back and forth, so that she could find out what his range of motion was. He felt some of the pain and tearing that Dr. Hansen had warned him about, but Beth didn’t have him push it too far to start. After their session, Allen worked to convince Katherine to go back to work.
“You don’t have to stay here all day now.” He said. “You can sleep in your own bed tonight and go back to work. Come visit me in the afternoon.”
“Are you sure? I worried terribly for those three days when you were missing. I’m not sure I’m ready to let you out of my sight yet.”
“Well, I certainly love spending time with you, but you heard the doctor. This is going to be a long process. We need to get back to as much of a normal routine as we can manage.”
“I suppose you’re right. I guess I’m not doing a lot of good sitting here watching soap operas.”
“You could go to the library and find me some books to read. And maybe I can call John and see if I can get a laptop and do some work from here.”
“That sounds like a good plan. You’re sure you’ll be OK tonight?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine. I’m not very happy to be in separate beds again, but I can hold out for a couple of weeks.”
“OK, I’ll go home at bedtime tonight then.”
They slipped into a new routine for the next two weeks. Katherine returned to her shifts at the aquarium, and Allen worked for an hour or two a day using a laptop. Beth pushed Allen to exercise and move his body, switching to twice a day sessions and eventually moving him to the weight machine to strengthen his leg muscles again. And the nurses and doctors treated his burns and helped him with his various bodily needs. When his last day in the hospital came, newly grown skin covered his legs and feet, and there was no more need for bandages.
“I guess I can’t call you mummy-boy anymore.” Said Beth at his physical therapy session.
“You’ll have to switch to monopod instead.” Allen replied.
“Now that your bandages are off, I’d like to get you in the pool, but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to arrange for a swimming suit.”
“I suppose the hospital gown won’t work too well in a pool. And skinny-dipping is out?”
“I’m afraid so. The nurses and I may be used to seeing male equipment, but the other patients would probably be embarrassed.”
With Allen’s legs grown together, putting on any kind of pants or underpants had become impossible. When he was originally brought to the hospital, they had to cut off his swimsuit, which had become trapped between his legs. It hadn’t been a real issue until now, as Allen simply wore hospital gowns, but he was going to need normal clothes when he left the hospital.
“I think I might have a way to get you in the pool.” Beth said. “We’ll see how it works when you come back tomorrow.”
“OK, I’ll be ready to try.”
After his physical therapy session, Allen returned to his room to find John had come to visit. After answering the usual questions about his health, John told him he had some bad news.
“Allen, I haven’t told you this because I didn’t want you to worry while you were recovering, but Orca has been having some trouble lately. After they heard about the fire in sub 12, all of our customers cancelled or postponed their orders. We’ve been trying to figure out what went wrong, but haven’t had much to report yet.”
“It started with the battery. What does Jeff have to say?”
“Jeff died. Apparently he overdosed on heroin.”
“Oh, that’s really sad. Jeff was such a nice guy. I never would have guessed he was doing drugs.”
“None of us suspected. And we found a few strange devices in the battery compartment, although they are pretty burned up. It may be that Jeff was involved in the fire somehow.”
“You think he might have sabotaged the battery?”
“The police have called in some forensic experts to look at it. But it may be some time before we know exactly what happened, if ever.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“That’s the rest of the bad news. With no orders, I have no money coming in and lots of bills to pay. I’m having to lay off all of my staff except a couple of the electrical guys. I hope once we can figure out the cause of the fire and resolve it, we’ll be able to sell submarines again, but for now I don’t have any money to pay people with. Your insurance is paid up, though, so your medical expenses will still be taken care of.”
“I see. Is there a chance that I can get my job back if you get some orders?”
“Oh, I certainly hope so. You have been a great worker, and if I have the chance you will be one of the first people I contact.”
They spoke for a few more minutes before John had to leave, taking the laptop with him. The news of his job loss saddened Allen a bit, but he was still happy to be leaving the hospital. He greatly anticipated the opportunity to sleep in the same bed with his wife again. Katherine arrived after work, carrying a sack from the mall with her. They spent a few minutes on a hello kiss, then Allen broke the news about his lost job.
“We’ll be OK. This way you can concentrate on getting better for a while, and then go looking for work when you are ready. Are you ready to go home?”
“You bet I am. Let’s go!”
“I brought you some clothes to wear.”
Katherine pulled one of his t-shirts out of the bag, followed by a long blue skirt.
“Well, you can’t exactly wear pants right now. I thought this would be better than just wrapping your legs in a blanket or something.”
“I guess that makes sense. I am getting kind of tired of these drafty hospital gowns.”
Allen took off the offending gown and slipped on the t-shirt. Then with Katherine’s guidance he slid the skirt up over his legs and fastened it at the side. There was also a pair of ankle socks in the bag, so Allen slid them onto his feet. He was grateful that his wife had thought of all the details. He wouldn’t have been able to pull his longer socks up past his ankles anyway. Once he was dressed, Allen got into his wheelchair and then collected up the few personal items and the library books and they put them in the shopping bag to carry home. As they were ready to leave, Allen pulled Katherine down into his lap for a long, passionate kiss.
“You’re looking forward to getting home, I see.” Said Katherine when they came up for air.
Katherine stood up and looked down at her husband.
“You had better put your hand in your lap until we get out in the car.” She said.
Allen looked down to see a telltale bump pushing out the fabric of the skirt. He covered it with his hand.
“I may have to find a skirt with thicker fabric.” Said his wife. “I hadn’t thought about what might show with you not wearing underwear.”
They went down to the administration area and checked Allen out of the hospital. They left with a folder full of instructions for how to treat his new skin, as well as a schedule of his physical therapy appointments for the next month. When they got to the door, a nurse held the wheelchair while Katherine went to bring the car to the door. Allen had to learn how to scoot from the wheelchair into the seat of the car, but with some instruction from the nurse he figured it out.
“What will we do about a wheelchair?” Allen asked as he and Katherine pulled away.
“Audra agreed to loan us one of the ones we use for the mermaids. I already have it at home.”
Half an hour later they were at home. Allen waited in the car while Katherine went to fetch the wheelchair. They were grateful that their apartment building had an elevator so that Allen could get to their second floor apartment. They spent the rest of the evening enjoying the chance to be alone together.