When Sandy Mayor Lawrence P. Smith checked into Holy Cross Hospital last December for gall bladder surgery, he was expecting an operation and then some R&R.

He got the operation all right, but not much rest. He claims his sleep was interrupted at least 14 times in one night. And based on his experience, he wonders if Johnny Carson might be right: a hospital is no place for a sick person to be."In a life that has included small babies, sick children, wild neighborhood parties, a hotel fire and middle-of-the-night phone calls from angry citizens, I have never experienced a night that came even close to the level of disruption and disturbance I endured at Holy Cross Hospital," Smith wrote to hospital president Robert Ladenburger in a letter dated Dec. 17, 1990.

Hospital officials say they appreciated the complaint, as it helps them to check the service they provide. But they are more used to getting compliments.

The hospital receives eight complimentary letters for every two with complaints, said hospital spokeswoman Marcie McCleary. "It's not a usual occurrence. We don't get a lot of letters, especially to this extent.

"It sounds like we should have communicated better," McCleary said. "Maybe there was some expectation based on who he was."

The letter sparked action. Ladenburger met with the nursing staff and shared information from Smith's letters.

"Maybe Mr. Smith didn't know the extent of follow-through that went on here. From what I hear, it was grueling," McCleary said. "I think Bob was dismayed that we didn't follow through with enough communication. By getting this feedback, I think we have learned some things, and we're going to make some changes."

Smith received a bill of $2,700 for operating costs and his hospital stay, which he cut short in order to go home to recuperate.

The politican said he doesn't plan any legal action, but he is complaining publicly about his experience because he's puzzled about the lack of response he received. And he wonders if others have similar war stories from their stays in local hospitals.

Nearly a month after sending his letter of complaint, Smith said he received a letter from Ladenburger. He should have complained to the unit nursing manager, the hospital president wrote. "But I told everybody that came into the room," Smith responded.

After having his gall bladder surgery, Smith said, it didn't help his mental state to be placed in a room with a very ill patient, one suffering complications from the same type of procedure. Smith said the hospital personnel who treated him were professional and courteous but continued to ignore his pleadings.

McCleary said it is difficult to know if the hospital was short-staffed that night, or if another room was clean and ready to accept patients. And patients should be aware that the hospital always has an advocate on call to help in such situations.

"Between 11 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., I was assured no less than six different occasions that they were basically finished and I could settle down and get some sleep, but on none of these occasions did this turn out to be correct," Smith wrote.

The next morning, on a stroll through the ward, Smith saw three empty rooms where he could have stayed. Eventually, he asked to be released from the hospital early.

The whole experience has trained the politician to be more responsive to those who complain to city officials. At the very least, complainers need to hear an apology, Smith believes.