call-lightI’m sure you’ve heard the jokes about how they wake you up all night long in hospitals, and then ask you how you’re doing. Last month, thanks to a series of rather odd events, I got to experience the joys of several nights in a hospital. I discovered that indeed, strange things do happen in hospitals after dark.

I’ve concluded there’s nothing one can do to stop the staff from waking you up at night, and believe me, I tried. But, there are some things you can do — should you have the misfortune to stay overnight in a hospital — that will definitely make your stay more pleasant.

First, get a sleep mask and ear plugs, and use them every night. They’ll help you block out a lot of the noise (and why are there signs outside hospitals for “quiet zones” when they’re so noisy inside?) as well as the lights. You’re not going to get a sound, long sleep in a hospital, but these two things will help with brief naps.

Even more important, guard your call light with your life. If possible, hold onto it at all times, even while you sleep. Before I learned this valuable lesson, I had several hospital aides hang my call light on a wall over six feet from my bed. Since I wasn’t able to get out of the bed at the time, this left me with no way to call a nurse.

But holding onto the call light isn’t enough. Any time an aide or a nurse has been around your bed, and is getting ready to leave, test your call light in their presence. I learned this sad lesson after one aide managed to unplug my call light in the middle of the night. I discovered it wasn’t working a few hours later, when I kept pressing the button to call a nurse and nothing happened. Finally, I started alternating between yelling and pounding on my bed with the call light, until someone finally came in to investigate.

I’d love to hear other suggestions for making hospital stays more pleasant, but to be honest, I’m hoping I never have to touch a call light again.