When Allen and Katherine swam into the recreation pool with their bags of supplies for the next two weeks, they found Maria already there.
“How do you like my new tail?” She asked.
Both of them swam around her, looking at her new tail.
“It looks great.” Allen said. “When did you get it put on?”
“Cammy did it on Sunday, while you were off. I’m going to be staying here the next two weeks, trying out the living facility with you.”
“That’s great! Welcome to our watery home away from home.”
The three of them settled in. Allen noticed that a few changes had been made while he and Katherine were out. There were now name plaques on five of the sleeping pools. Theirs said “Mermaid Katherine and Merman Allen,” and each of the other mermaids were represented, including Audra. Waterproof keyboards had also been installed under each of the screens in the recreation pool. As the weeks progressed, more of the updates requested by Allen were added to the mermaid living quarters. A refrigerator, cabinets, and a microwave were installed in the wall of the cafeteria pool above the water level, followed by a wall oven, a cooktop, and a fresh water sink. That wall of the pool became the kitchen, and a bench was installed just below water level so that the mermaids could sit while preparing food. Allen asked them to install railings and grab bars in the area as well, to give them a variety of options for holding on while moving around with the food. Allen found a local grocery store that would deliver food, so he and Katherine ordered some groceries and started doing some of their own cooking. Maria joined in and soon they were enjoying some delicious Mexican food as well as their own specialties.
The last weekend in October was the last mermaid swim event of the year, as it would be getting too cool for comfort in the outdoor area. That pool was still open to the mermaids, however, and they would visit it on warmer, sunny days. Their new swimming suits arrived and both Allen and his wife wore them around the living area. Even though the water and the air in the mermaid areas was warm enough that a covering was not needed, they both felt more comfortable with a bit more coverage on top. Maria thought it was a good idea as well, so they gave her the contact information of the seamstress. Audra joined them in the pool several times during the two weeks, spending the night on a couple of occasions. On Friday of their second week, Renna got her new tail and joined the overnight group. Lacy followed on Saturday, so for that day all five merpeople were together with their new tails. Audra took advantage of the moment and had them all go out to the mermaid swim pool and pose on the central rock for updated publicity photos.
That evening, Cammy removed Allen and Katherine’s tails. Katherine felt strange with her legs separated, and her first few steps were a little wobbly. They returned to their apartment, which felt cold and empty. They spent their days off doing laundry and shopping for groceries to re-stock their apartment fridge. When they went back to work on Tuesday, they slipped into their old tails. Rather than take them on and off, however, they spent the whole day in the mermaid quarters, using the wall screens to do their office work.
On Wednesday, the day finally came for Allen’s appointment with the insurance doctor. He asked Maria to cover his feeding shift, and Renna agreed to take him to the appointment on her day off. She picked him up at his apartment and they drove to the address Allen had been given. The street where the office was located looked run-down, with liquor stores, boarded-up buildings, and trash strewn along the road. The GPS on Allen’s phone led them to a shabby building on a corner. There were bars on the windows, but the door had lettering on it:
Dr. Anand Chopra, M.D.
They got out and went in. Renna held the door open so that Allen could pass through on his crutches. Allen gave his name to the receptionist and filled out the obligatory pile of medical history forms. Several other people waited in the hard plastic chairs, reading two-year-old copies of Time magazine. A few of them looked strangely at Allen’s skirt, but most of the people looked away or down at their phones. Finally, about 45 minutes after his appointment was supposed to start, Allen was called back to see the doctor. A harried looking man with Indian features came into the examining room.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“I’m Dr. Chopra. Nice to meet you.”
“It’s nice to finally meet you as well.”
“What seems to be the problem today?”
“Well, I’m here for an insurance release. My legs are grown together and I can’t walk, but the insurance company doesn’t want to pay for an operation to separate them.”
“I see. That is quite unusual. What caused your legs to grow together?”
“I was in a fire and they were badly burned. We were rescued by a drug smuggler and my friend covered my legs with healgel and then wrapped them together with bandages. There weren’t enough bandages to wrap the legs individually. By the time we escaped, the skin had grown together.”
“Well, that’s quite a story. Would you mind taking off your skirt so I can see your legs?”
Allen took off his shoes and socks, then slid his skirt off.
“Thank you.” Said the doctor. “May I ask if you commonly wore skirts before your accident?”
“No, the skirts were my wife’s idea. Pants won’t work with my legs like this.”
“I see. And the girdle?”
“Also the only thing that fits. It smooths out any bumps from my male parts.”
“Would you mind taking it off? I need to see the entire affected area.”
Allen pulled the girdle down, and the doctor examined his legs carefully. He had Allen stand up and turn around so he could see all sides, then he pressed his fingers firmly into the skin between his legs.
“Does that hurt?” He asked.
“And you have to use crutches to walk?”
“Does it impact your work?”
“Well, no. I wear a mermaid tail at work, and I can swim just fine.”
“A mermaid tail?”
“Yes. I work for the Gulf Aquarium as an engineer and a diver, and we use mermaid tails to help attract customers.”
“How many other people work with you?”
“There are five of us.”
“And how many of the others are men?”
“None. I’m currently the only male mermaid– or merman I should say.”
“That’s very interesting. All right, I’m done here. You can put your clothes back on.”
“So will you write the request for me to get the operation?”
“I’ll be sending a report to the insurance company in a day or two. I just have to look up their policies and make sure I format everything properly.”
“Good. Thank you.”
A nurse showed Allen back out to the lobby and he and Renna left.
“Did he write the request you needed?” Renna asked.
“He said he would send it to the insurance company. He had to look up their policies.”
“Well, if you don’t hear from them in a day or two, I would call and complain.”
“Oh, I will. I can’t believe they’re even making me go through this.”
“It’s a typical knee-jerk bureaucratic response. You don’t fit into any of their existing little boxes, so they send you on a wild goose chase.”
Renna dropped Allen back off at his apartment. Most of the day had been used up by the doctor visit, so it didn’t make sense to go in to work. Katherine came home an hour or so later.
“How did it go?” She asked.
“Well, he gave me a good looking over, and then said he would send a report in a day or two.”
Allen and Katherine got up very early Thursday morning and Cammy put their new tails back on. Audra was now asking all of the mermaids to wear the new tails whenever possible, and to keep the tails on for at least two weeks each time. Since Allen and Katherine were starting in the middle of a week, it would be two weeks and three days with the new tails this time. On Friday, Audra announced that she had made arrangements with a local laundry to pick up and wash clothes two days a week. Each mermaid received a laundry bag with his or her name on it, and they could fill it with clothes to be laundered on Tuesdays and Fridays. The cost was reasonable and could be taken out of their paychecks. Saturday around noon, Audra showed up in the living area, with one of the new tails.
“I don’t have any customer meetings for the next couple of weeks, so I thought I would see what it was like to spend two weeks in here.” She told them.
Allen also received a letter in the mail from the insurance company. “Coverage Denied.” It said. The reason stated was that the patient was in good health and the procedure requested was not medically necessary. Doctor Chopra’s report was attached.
Patient presented with legs fused together. Patient walks using crutches, but stated that he spends the majority of his time swimming and the fused legs do not impair his swimming. Firm muscle tone and good strength noted in the legs. The skin is healthy and blood circulation appears to be adequate. In this doctor’s opinion, the operation to separate the legs would be high risk and very expensive. Chances of complications would be high. Given the apparent good health of the patient, I would not recommend proceeding.
Note: Patient presented wearing women’s clothing, to include undergarments. Although he stated this was a practical matter because of the legs, all hair had been removed from the legs, and the patient referred to himself as a “mermaid.” I recommend the patient be examined by a psychologist to check for gender dysphoria.
“What!” Yelled Allen after reading the report. He handed it across the cafeteria table to Katherine. She read it as well.
“Gender dysphoria?” She said. “That’s funny.”
“I think that doctor’s only purpose is to save the insurance company money.”
“He does state that he thinks the operation would be very expensive. Would it really be as dangerous as he says?”
“I don’t know. Doctor Hansen didn’t say it would be dangerous, but we hadn’t talked about it much.”
“Let’s call her and ask.”
They swam back to their room and got Allen’s phone out of the cabinet. Katherine looked up her number on the computer in the rec room and Allen dialed.
“Dr. Hansen’s office, how may I help you?” Answered a receptionist.
“This is Allen Landry, a patient of Doctor Hansen. Would it be possible to speak to the doctor directly for a few minutes?”
“Let me check her schedule. Please hold for a moment.”
After a minute or two of hold music, the receptionist came back on the line.
“The doctor is doing her rounds right now, but she could talk to you for a few minutes when she is done. Can she call you back at this number?”
“Yes, that will be fine.”
Allen put his phone in a baggie and swam to one of the computers to work while he waited for the return call. It wasn’t very long before it came.
“Hello, Allen. This is Dr. Hansen.”
“Hi Doctor. Thanks for calling me back.”
“I’m happy to do so. So why are you calling? Did you get the answer from your insurance company?”
“I did. I went to their doctor, a Dr. Chopra, and he recommended they don’t pay for the operation. He said it would be dangerous and expensive. Would it really be that dangerous?”
“Well any major surgery has an element of danger. The main danger with this particular surgery is that it is not something any of us here have done before. The only precedent is the rare birth defect called Sirenomelia, and most children born with that defect have other serious problems and seldom live more than a few days. I think three or four have survived long enough to have their legs surgically separated and the operations were difficult and did not always have good results. I’m sure those cases would be the kind of thing Dr. Chopra might cite as reasons not to have the surgery. But the truth is, your case is quite different from those. All of your internal organs are intact and functioning properly, and your leg bones are strong. I think the surgery in your case would be much more successful. But it would be long, difficult, and expensive. We might have to do the surgery in stages to help stretch the skin out before we can separate your legs. And you would be hospitalized for a long time with major wounds to heal all along your legs, so there would be a chance of complications and infections.”
“You’re not making this any easier.”
“Well, I don’t want to give you any false impressions. The surgery would be long and complicated, and the recovery will be difficult. But you have recovered extremely well from your burns, and I am confident that we could be successful and that you would be happy with the eventual result.”
“I think the most difficult part will be figuring out how to pay for it.”
“I’ve heard of Dr. Chopra before, and I’m not surprised at his recommendation. I’m pretty sure he’s in the pocket of the insurance companies. If it would help, I would be willing to donate my services. Unfortunately my salary is only a small part of the expense. I would estimate that by the time the hospital is done adding everything up, the cost will be anywhere from $200,000 to $400,000.”
“No wonder the insurance company doesn’t want to pay.”
“Do you have any other questions for me?”
“No, I guess not.”
“Then I need to go. I have a patient waiting for me. I hope you can get this all worked out somehow.”
Allen carried his phone back into their room and put it in the cabinet, then he lay on their bed, pondering what to do next. After a few minutes, Katherine joined him.
“I take it the call from Dr. Hansen didn’t go well?” She asked.
“She says she is confident that the operation would be successful, and it is as safe as any other major operation. But it would be long, complicated, and expensive. She didn’t say it, but I imagine it would be painful as well. How can we afford $200,000 or more for an operation?”
“We can’t. Since your insurance company isn’t helping, maybe it’s time to drop the COBRA payments and switch to the Burns Pharma insurance plan. It would save money on our monthly bills, and maybe we can convince that insurance company to pay for the operation.”
“That sounds like a good idea. I’ll make the change this afternoon. I’m well past the 90 day probation period, so I should be able to switch without a problem.”
Allen tried to forget about operations and insurance over the next few days. He decided he would give it a rest for a while before trying again with the new insurance company. He and Katherine tried to enjoy their days off. Lacy had brought a few board games and she was eager to introduce the other mermaids to them. So in the evenings, Allen and Katherine joined her and whoever else was interested in playing the games. They found that they really enjoyed them, though they had to be careful not to drop any of the cardboard tokens into the water. After losing one or two tokens, Lacy put her games away until after she had a chance to take them out and get everything laminated.