Day 26: Sunday, October 24th, 2004
        A tough night trying to sleep. Not a problem of tossing and turning but more of being in pain every time I tried to toss or turn. Part of me is seriously thinking about just turning around and heading straight for home. But being so close to the Keys, I really don't want to miss them. So, after that, maybe I can just head north and "escape". Before I left the campground I spoke to another tenter and when he heard I was going to Key West he told me that he lived there for a while. "No beaches," he said, "but great if you like to party". Didn't sound too promising. However, I loaded up on popcorn, Pepsi, and M&Ms so that I could at least enjoy the ride, even if I just went out to Key West, waved at the people there, and then turned around.

        The drive through the Florida Keys was actually quite beautiful. Unfortunately I didn't get any good pictures because most of the best spots were along the numerous bridges (including the impressive "Seven Mile Bridge") where there's nowhere to actually stop and enjoy the view. Lots of pelicans and tiny little islands. Numerous people fishing along the way.

        I did stop at one place that caught my eye. They offered the chance to swim with dolphins or manatees. I took a look around the place. Unfortunately, they were not offering it until the next day and it cost a lovely $140. Meanwhile, I didn't know how well I'd swim with dolphins with my sore chest. I was starting to regret my visit to Wet 'n Wild.

        I did stop off at one little park along the way and went for a brief swim in a tidal pool there. Swimming wasn't too bad, as long as I didn't swim too hard. Didn't see much of any interest while swimming with the mask, though I did get startled by a lobster that seemed to be very upset that I was intruding in HIS pool.

        It was early afternoon when I made it to Key West. Quite the interesting place. The first thing I did was visit one of the beaches. Yes, there were beaches there. Not a very nice beach area though. The sand is great until you get in the water and then it basically turns into muck and assorted sludge. I did some more swimming with the mask but everything looked awful murky. Did see a few interesting fish though.

        One of the things I liked most about Key West was seeing all the mopeds going around. People of all ages, shapes, and sizes were zooming around the streets on them, dodging in and out between the cars. There were also wild chickens in Key West. Most unusual. Some seemed to be fenced in but others just roamed freely. They were even climbing trees!

        I went to the marker for the southernmost point of Continental USA. Lots of people getting their pictures taken there. Only ninety miles from Cuba. I could smell the cigars from here! I tracked down a little internet cafe and bought some kind of strawberry drink and used their wireless access to check on campgrounds. I actually kind of liked this area and was thinking of staying a few days. Unfortunately, the camping prices were just a little higher than what I'd been used to. I finally chose a KOA Campground that was about a twenty minute drive back along the keys as it had internet access. A whopping $40 a night though.

        Or it would've been if it was "off-season" but for some reason their peak season had just begun. So it was $48 a night. But then just as the lady is almost finished checking me in she apologizes and says that she forgot all about the fact that this week is "Fantasy Fest" and because of that, it is actually going to be $51/night. First Biketoberfest and now this. Wonderful. I wonder if they just make up some of these festivals to jack up the prices. (Reminds me of an old movie where the Jewish kid used to make up holidays to get off school. "Can't write that test tomorrow, because it's Bagel Day.")

        I kind of understand the extra price. This place has its own marina and fancy beach and various amenities. But considering I didn't come in until after dark, it would be nice to get some sort of discount. That's a lot of dough to spend on a small patch of grass. (Not even a very good one at that.) As a final insult, the pool closed at 8:00. I find this out, naturally enough, at 8:05.

        I stayed up a few more hours accessing the wireless internet (add an extra few bucks for that) and having to do so over at the little outdoor pub because I couldn't get a signal anywhere near my tent.

        When I finally went to bed I felt awful. My chest seemed to be getting much worse and I found it difficult to even roll over at all. At one point I did roll over on my side and I felt a distinct grating of something around my ribs. It didn't hurt more than usual but it seems as if something was shifting around in there that shouldn't be.

        I lay on my back and was suddenly scared to move anywhere. It seemed obvious that I must've broken a rib after all. I imagined my next movement might shift it the wrong way and puncture something. I spent the rest of the night half-dozing, filled with paranoid thoughts and barely able to move.

Day 27: Monday, October 25th, 2004

        When I woke (assuming I even slept) the next morning I felt even worse. It took several attempts to even sit up. I seemed fine if I was in a sitting position but any other movement was extremely painful. After awkwardly showering and dismantling the tent, I decided that I only had a few options. One was to simply head for home as quickly as possible and get this checked out back in Canada where it wouldn't cost a thing. I could probably make it in three days. The next idea was to simply ignore it. It would get better on its own. Besides, I don't like doctors. And the third option was to forget about all the horror tales of uninsured doctor bills in the States and get it checked out.

        Eventually I decided on what seemed to be the most sensible decision: biting the bullet and going to the hospital. I went online beforehand, trying to find a site that would give me an idea of what such a thing would cost, but they all directed me to a particular web site which contained nothing useful at all.

        Regardless, there was no point hanging around the Keys. I was in too much pain to enjoy anything there and I did not want to spend another fortune on a campground here. So, I headed back towards the mainland and eventually came across a hospital and decided to go in and get checked out.

        I suppose I should've actually asked them how much it was going to cost beforehand. (Seems like such a sensible thing now.) But I had it in mind that it would be maybe $500 at the most and I really did not want to leave this unchecked any longer.

        So, right away I had a nurse come and check me out. Blood pressure, all the standard medical history questions. Take a deep breath. Hold. Let it out. Then I sat around the waiting area for about an hour. When I got called in another nurse came and basically did the same thing the last nurse did, listening to my breathing to see if all seemed fine. Another half hour of waiting. Then I finally see a doctor. He says hi and then (surprise surprise) he pulls out a stethescope and checks my breathing. I should note that of the three times it was done, he did the poorest job. I must have seen him for all of 2 minutes.

        Then it was off for X-rays. I felt like I was posing for some raunchy magazine cover. Lie this way. Put your left leg up like this. Hold your right arm over your head. After about a dozen X-rays in various positions there was another long wait and then a nurse came in and said all was fine. I just had a bruised rib and that I should apply a heating pad to the area and they had a couple prescriptions for me. Oh, and don't forget to pay on the way out...

        A whopping $1400. Almost as much as I had spent on the entire road trip so far. No warning beforehand. No apologies for the prices. A little itemized list showing $540 for the checkup and the rest for the X-rays. Completely unimaginable that anything could be so expensive. And, of course, all I had gotten from it (aside from the prescriptions) was the peace of mind that I was not going to skewer myself on a shard of bone next time I made any dramatic movements.

        To add further insult, what is the difference between the treatment for a bruised rib and a broken rib? Nothing! Maybe they could've told me that right off the bat and saved me a few bucks. I spent most of the rest of the day freaking out over it. I'd drive past a sign at a toll booth saying "$100 fine for not paying" and I would think "Ha, that's nothing!" I could probably get a handful of speeding tickets and still pay less than what I dished out for my few minutes of quality American healthcare.

        I should point out that in the end I actually paid a little less than $1200. The lady seemed to take pity on me and since I was not insured she gave me a seemingly arbitrary 20% discount. I heard a lady in back say "Give it to him for free", but they didn't pay attention to her. What a mess!

        Desperate to put as much distance between me and the scene of the crime, I left the Keys and took the "Alligator Alley" interstate west across northern Florida and over to Naples. I stopped at another KOA campground. This one was a little cheaper ($35) and this time it actually had a decent internet connection that I could access from my tent. More importantly it had a good pool and a hot tub. The perfect location to recuperate, especially now that I was coming down with a cold...

on to the next day...