Patients and friends of patients are phoning and writing us. Write if you can -- it's not always possible to get to all phone calls right away.

A woman forwards a friend's letter: "Ghastly sojourn in the hospital. Monstrous sadistic nurse . . . Scolded almost everybody . . . Roommate moaned and sobbed constantly at first. Then one night of her snoring followed by the night when speech came back and she went on and on, punctuated with cries . . . I was in no mood to be a hero and tried to see, hear, speak as little as possible."

A woman tells of sitting with a friend, 97, who "seemed to be dying, so I rang for a nurse. She came and took her blood pressure, then hurried to call her doctor.

"After 90 minutes he still hadn't called back. Finally they started an i.v." -- for intravenous fluids -- "and the next morning they told me she was dehydrated because her doctor hadn't ordered them to keep track of fluid input and output.

"Shouldn't you be able to get a doctor in a hospital when you need one?"

Of course you should. Sick people should be in a hospital which has adequate round-the-clock house staff -- residents or others -- empowered to start emergency treatments whether or not the patient's doctor is available.

"Most of the nurses bent over backward to help," this woman added.

Here's a different kind of story.

"Because the medical profession is under increased scrutiny" and criticism, "I want to share a recent positive experience," Josephine Dunne of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration writes.

A sinus infection led her internist and a radiologist to order X-rays and a CAT scan that revealed an unsuspected meningioma -- a large, benign yet still perilous brain tumor.

"My physician immediately sent me to Georgetown University Hospital, where my scan was reviewed by an extremely competent neurologist . . . candidly thorough in his examination and explanation, kind and open to all my questions."

She was admitted for surgery. "Prior to the surgery I was thoroughly briefed by the chief surgeon, the coordinating nurse, the anesthesiologist and the intensive care nurse. All tests -- especially an arteriogram, which is scary and intermittently painful -- were administered with intelligent explanations and gentleness.

"I was treated with the greatest courtesy, care and professionalism by all, including doctors, residents and interns, nurses, lab technicians, transport personnel and food suppliers . . . There were no surprises . . . This experience showed me the medical professional at its best."

The experience shows that "some places are doing it well," she adds.

From the conflicting reports I get about almost every institution, I would say many are doing it spectacularly well for some patients and doing it badly for some. -- Victor Cohn