On September 13, Allen received a call from Dr. Hansen’s receptionist.
“Allen, you had an appointment to see Dr. Hansen tomorrow?”
“Yes. She was going to see if I was ready for the operation to separate my legs.”
“Well, your insurance just called us and said they wouldn’t pay for the operation.”
“What?! Why not?”
“They wouldn’t say. You’ll have to contact them directly to find out. In the meantime, we’ll cancel your appointment with Dr. Hansen. You can set it up again once we have the insurance situation figured out.”
Allen looked up the number for his insurance. He was paying extra to use the insurance company from his time at Orca under the COBRA program, because his insurance with Burns Pharmaceuticals didn’t kick in until 90 days after he was hired. After navigating through a mind-numbingly long phone tree and waiting on hold for 20 minutes, he finally got with a representative.
“Why is your company denying coverage for my operation?” He asked.
“We don’t cover elective cosmetic surgery.”
“This isn’t elective surgery. My legs have grown together and I can’t walk. The surgery is to correct that situation.”
“Well, according to our records, your legs were badly burned. We paid for all of your hospital expenses beyond your deductible, and it says that the burns have completely healed.”
“The burns have healed, but my legs are still stuck together.”
“I understand how this might be frustrating for you. But we don’t have any codes for legs being stuck together. Did you suffer another injury beyond the burns?”
“No. It was just the burns. But my legs were bound together for about a week after I was burned, and the healing skin grew together.”
“I see. Do you have the medical records from the hospital that bound your legs together?”
“No, I wasn’t in a hospital. I was being held captive by drug smugglers.”
“Oh my, that’s quite a story. It’s too bad you weren’t in a hospital. Then we could have looked at their records and charged the operation to them as a medical malpractice case. I’m not sure what we can do about treatment received while captive. That’s not on my list of options.”
“Well, I’m still sitting here with my legs stuck together, and I’ve been paying for your insurance to cover me for this kind of thing.”
“I’m going to have to talk to my supervisor. Please hold.”
Twenty minutes later, the hold music ended and the representative spoke again.
“Mr. Landry, are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m here. Did you figure something out?”
“We think so. Your case is a very unique one, so we will need to go through a special appeal process. Once we do that I’m sure we will be able to work something out.”
“Okay. What do I have to do to start the process?”
“I’ve already opened up an appeal for you. The first thing you need to do is see our appeal doctor. He will confirm your condition and verify the need for an operation. Then once we have his signature we can go ahead and schedule the operation with your normal doctor.”
“Okay. Can you give me the contact information for your appeal doctor?”
“I’ve just sent you an e-mail with all the information.”
A few minutes later, the name and phone number of the insurance company doctor showed up in Allen’s inbox. He called the number, only to hear a message saying that the office was closed on Tuesdays and he should call back tomorrow. Allen was not in a good mood when he met Katherine for the drive home after work that day.
“What’s wrong?” Katherine asked.
Allen repeated the conversation with Dr. Hansen’s receptionist and the insurance company.
“At least the insurance person figured out what to do.” Katherine said when he was done. “I’m sure once this insurance company doctor sees you it will all be handled in a day or two.”
The next morning, Allen called the insurance doctor.
“Dr. Chopra’s office, how may I help you?”
“I need an appointment to see the doctor for an insurance appeal.”
“I will be happy to help you with that. When do you want to see him?”
“As soon as possible, please.”
“Okay. I have an opening on November 9th. Does that work for you?”
“November 9th? That’s your earliest opening?”
“I’m afraid so. Doctor Chopra is very busy right now. Should I put you down for November 9th?
“Aren’t there any emergency appointments, or some way to see him earlier? I want to be able to walk again.”
“For an emergency, you would need to go to the emergency room. I can set up your appointment for November 9th and then put you on our list in case someone cancels. Would you like me to do that?”
“I guess so.”
Allen met Katherine that afternoon as he was finishing his turn feeding the fish and she was practicing in the pool before her turn.
“It will be more than a couple of days.” He told her.
“Why? What happened?”
“The first available appointment was November 9th.”
“Really? That’s almost two months away!”
“Yes. The receptionist said the doctor was very busy, and I should go to the emergency room if it was urgent.”
“That’s unbelievable! What are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. Call the insurance company back, I suppose. Maybe there is another doctor I can go to, or maybe I can convince them to accept Dr. Hansen’s opinion.”
“I sure hope so.”
Allen called the insurance company that afternoon. They did not have another doctor, and they were unwilling to accept any substitutes. As far as they were concerned, since his condition wasn’t getting any worse and he wasn’t in any danger of dying, he could wait for the doctor. Eventually, Allen resigned himself to two more months of crutches and wheelchairs. At least in the water he could feel free.
“We’d better buy you a few more skirts.” Said Audra that evening. “I’m getting tired of seeing you in the same five skirts over and over again, and I have to do laundry more often to make sure you have clean ones for work.”
“I suppose that makes sense. I probably need a few more girdles for underneath as well.”
So they went shopping again and Allen let Katherine talk him into getting some skirts with patterns—one a kind of grey herringbone, and one in a tartan pattern. He also picked one in a tan suede-like material. Katherine talked him into getting a couple of relatively plain nightgowns for sleeping in as well.
“The nights will be cooler as November approaches.” She explained.
Katherine seemed happy to be shopping for new clothes, even if they weren’t for herself. Allen could only think of it as an indication of how long he would be stuck in his current state.
The next few weeks found Allen occupied with the details of the designs for the mermaid living area. Construction was already in progress on the pools and connections, but questions came up from time to time as the construction crews worked. Allen went out to view the construction progress once or twice a week. He found the work to be interesting and satisfying, but he wondered what would happen when the construction was complete. Would Audra still have a job for him?
Katherine was also occupied with her job. They had been developing a new kind of gel that could be used as a medical adhesive. It could be used to seal wounds while they healed or to attach prostheses to the body. It was permanent but could be removed with the proper solvent. Katherine helped develop the process to infuse the base jellyfish material with the adhesive materials. They had tried numerous materials and processes until they finally found one that gave the proper stickiness as well as the flexibility to move with the body.
Near the end of September, Audra asked Allen to come into her office.
“What did you need me for?” Allen asked.
“I was wondering if you would be willing to help me with an experiment I want to try.”
“What kind of experiment?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking about a new, more realistic-looking mermaid tail design. I want to try applying individual scales to the skin.”
“That sounds like a difficult process.”
“It would be very time-consuming. And you wouldn’t be able to take the tail off quickly. It would require our special solvent.”
“And you think I would be an ideal person to try it because my legs are already stuck together.”
“Exactly. Anyone else would be giving up the ability to walk for several days, but it wouldn’t be much of a change for you. You might have a harder time using crutches, but for the most part life wouldn’t change much for you.”
“What about going to the bathroom?”
“I had planned to have a few scales front and back that were attached together in a kind of flap. You would just have to lift it up to do your business.”
“This is why you are constructing the mermaid living area isn’t it?”
“Yes. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mermaid. Now I can do it for a few hours at a time, but I want to be able to live that way full-time. I’m guessing I can find a few other people who want to join me. So are you willing to help me make my dream come true?”
“When you put it that way, I suppose I could. Can I have time to talk it over with Katherine and let you know for sure tomorrow?”
“Of course. Here, take this sample scale with you.”
Audra handed Allen a largish scale made of the same kind of silicone material as the mermaid tails. It was greenish in color and had very small scalloped ridges on the outside, and was very smooth on the inside. It was about an inch and a half wide and maybe two inches long, and it was a bit firmer than the tails but still flexible. Allen showed it to Katherine that evening and asked her what she thought about Audra’s request.
“Did she say how long she wanted you to wear this new tail?” Katherine asked.
“Not exactly. She said several days. I think she’s working up to something permanent, but this is a partial step along the way.”
“Do you think this flap of scales will interfere with our making love?”
“If it does, my answer will be no.” Allen said emphatically. “But I was too embarrassed to ask that question. “I’ll ask her tomorrow. Assuming it won’t be a problem, are you OK with this?”
“Yes, as long as you can remove the tail for our days off.”
So the next day Allen talked to Audra. After she assured him that she didn’t think the tail would interfere with marital relations, he agreed to be her guinea pig for a time. They decided his first day would be the next Tuesday, after his two days off.