I don’t know if you’d call it romantic, but I did spend Valentine’s Day with my husband and we were holding hands. He was supporting me as we made our thrice daily rounds around the halls of the heart unit at Mission Hospital. I wore a fetching blue hospital gown and hadn’t washed my hair in five days. He smiled lovingly down at me. As for the hospital experience itself, it’s one of those things that everyone secretly knows, but no one talks about until it happens to you. “Oh, of course you can’t sleep at all in the hospital! It’s miserable!” Before surgery, people focus on whether or not the doctor is highly rated, and if you should travel to a specialist center out of town, and how long you will be out of work. What you should REALLY be focusing on is how to make it through a six-night stay in hell without wanting to end it all. Don’t get me wrong, Mission is a wonderful hospital, my doctor was skilled, and my nurses and CNAs (for the most part) were treasures. What did me in was “the system.” Our favorite target of blame, and yet one in this case that is easily remedied. Easily? Yes, it turns out that doctors and hospitals around the country are looking to reduce patient suffering, and the ways they have found to do it are surprisingly obvious. According to The New York Times article, “Doctors Strive to Do Less Harm by Inattentive Care”, Yale-New Haven Hospital raised their ranking of patient satisfaction on the question, “Is it quiet in your room at night?” by changing one policy. They stopped waking patients up for tests. That’s it! They didn’t do midnight vital signs or 4 a.m. blood tests. They simply stopped. The price tag for this monumentally obvious change? Zero. Asheville is a world-class city, and I feel very lucky that I only had to drive ten minutes to get world-class heart valve replacement surgery. Now if our local hospital will simply make it their mission in life to have people report, “My hospital stay? It was great. I left feeling rested and ready to finish my recovery at home” I think they will be on their way to providing a world-class hospital experience from which we will all benefit. In the meantime? Prepare for your hospital stay by assembling every known comfort to man or woman kind: aromatherapy, eye mask, ambient music, noise canceling headphones, and anything else that gets you through the night. In addition to those things, my husband’s presence and some outside nutritional support from the likes of Chik-Fil-A, Nine Mile, and Mamacita’s, made my stay bearable and left me with a few fond memories of Valentine’s Day on the heart unit.