Highland Journal, a Miniseries: Part I

By Howard Dyckoff

This is a tale of pain and fear, abated by the service, smiles and laughter of the Alameda County Medical Center (ACMC) staff.  This is a story about my worst November ever: more than 2 weeks in Highland Hospital, with pain continuing  both inside and outside.

Those quiet, always working, critical but silent internal organs – they became blocked and started digesting… me.

Quickly, here’s a note about my caregivers: back in October, local film makers released the documentary The Waiting Room to praise and acclaim. It’s about a day in the life of Highland Hospital’s Emergency Room. It’s a slice of Oakland life rarely seen on the big screen. It’s also about the heroic efforts of some staff members to help distressed patients navigate the system. I love the film and would recommend it to anyone.

In early November, I had my own odyssey in Highland’s ER. The staff responded efficiently and professionally to my situation. But my problem couldn’t be resolved there so I was admitted. This is that story – what comes after the “Waiting Room.”

In this case, my normally reliable internals were self-digesting. My gall bladder had produced stones and some of those blocked both the gall bladder and the pancreas. This is serious and life-threatening.

In my case, they had to remove my gall bladder and the stones that blocked the secretions of my pancreas. I was scheduled for surgery on Election Day remained in the hospital almost 2 weeks more.

Health is about juggling – the sandwiches, the cafe lattes, the birthday cake slices, the morning jogs, the 8 glasses of water daily. We do it to keep all our bits – from our Achilles tendons to our occipital lobes – in working order, there when we need them.

As we get older, the juggling can seem endless, until something slips, and there’s a mess.

Sometimes we toss up the cookies, and sometimes that is not enough. When a medical intervention is required, the stakes go up. We like to think that a couple of pills can fix things. But if you are hospitalized, the intervention required might be deeper. Sometimes our bits need to be rearranged, some even need to be taken out. Who are we when the sum of our parts is diminished?  If I get my organs snipped or pulled out all together, am I suddenly less Howard than I was before I went under?

I prefer to think we are the sum of our experiences and our responses to those experiences, but losing a limb or a sense like sight can have a profound impact on what we experience.

I have to say that in the 2 months following my surgery and follow-up procedures, I have gradually become myself again.  Well, a self that is not too different from the one I was previously. The pain is certainly gone and there are scars. I am eating a little less than I did before but I embrace that as a healthy change. I am eating less fatty foods, but that is also a good change. But I am aware that I am more cautious and more careful  and that changes my relationship with food in general.

In the next parts of this narrative, I share stories about the hospital, the staff, the patients and the experience of being in Oakland’s infamous Highland Hospital. I was there just over two weeks – I have many stories to share.


Author Profile

Howard Dyckoff has lived in Oakland for over 40 years and has been involved with many community groups, including Oakland Digital and Oakland Local, Block by Block, the East Oakland Boxing Association (EOBA), and CBE. A Brooklyn, New York, transplant, and an Aerospace Engineering graduate of NY Polytechnic, Howard also attended Laney College, where he wrote for the Laney Tower newspaper and was elected editor. Howard also attended the Starr King School at the Theological Union in Berkeley.

He has served as the Berkeley Free Clinic’s Outreach Coordinator, and also worked as an information technology professional at Chevron, Sybase, and Wells Fargo. He worked in both the 2010 and 2020 Census. Howard has been a regular contributor to Oakland Local and online publications such as TechTarget and Linux Gazette and currently writes for Oakland Voices. He currently does event photography and portraiture around the Bay Area.

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