Off the Table

Warning: This post contains pictures that may be disturbing to some people

Normally, I might offer the above warning in one of my failed attempts at humor. I was thinking if I was trying to be funny, I might attach the warning to something like a photo of me walking around the house without my shirt on. But that isn’t the case; there are a couple of photos below that might not be for the faint of heart. It is a sincere warning.

I am including some photos of my surgery in this blog post because I promised a few people I would do so, and because it might help communicate how beneficial photoremedy (using photography to move your mind from an over focus on ailments) has been for me in helping combat my health issues. The idea I’m trying to communicate is that if photoremedy can help someone who is willing to go through what I did this week, then perhaps maybe it can help you, or a family member, or a friend.

I was awake for nearly all of the approximately 200 minute procedure, but I was not able to see just how involved the surgery was. For those considering neurostimulators, do not let the photo below scare you. They gave me really good meds.  There was little to no pain involved and you need to be awake to help them best direct the placement of the electrodes. As those who know me might expect, I even thought I had some of my best stand up lines going while they were doing this.  The key word is “thought.”

All photos courtesy of Matt Mundus, St. Jude Medical – Neurostimulation

The electrodes are readily apparent in the x-ray photos

I am a long ways from a final determination of how much elevation I will get from having two neurostimulators implanted under the skin on my backside and 32 electrodes running up and down my spine, but here’s my initial read on how the surgery went.

The two implants are already producing encouraging results. The severe pain I have lived with for some time in my right arm and left leg has certainly declined. My toes–which more often than not have felt like a UFC fighter stomped on them before smashing them with a super sized sledgehammer–have been completely free of pain ever since the surgery. The toe pain was a result of nerve damage I suffered when I broke a vertebrae and wore away a disc or two in my lower back. Two major lumber surgeries did not result in any major pain level reduction or increase in the function of my left leg. It did, however, leave me with titanium screws and rods.

Scar tissue and small nerve roots in some locations are preventing (currently) significant impact in a couple of key areas. I will have more device programming sessions, so we’ll work on changing that. I’ve been told the neurostimulators will likely not lesson the psoriatic arthritis impact, so I will likely need to continue with treatment I have employed in the past. There is also some question about restoring the dexterity in my right hand, and it is still killing me to type for more than a few minutes at a time. I put together this post, for example, bit by bit.

The “stab wounds” in the back are quite painful, but that should pass. When it takes (as the doctor’s told me) “hundreds of stitches” to anchor everything in place and close up the incisions, one shouldn’t expect to run a marathon the next day.

All in all, I’m extremely encouraged at this early juncture. Plus, the 23 pounds I’ve lost since the week before Thanksgiving will also help put a bigger bounce in my step! I’m supposed to be extremely inactive for 6-12 weeks, so I’ll have to lay off beer and chips if I want to lose any more weight. Since I tend to prefer a red wine here and a vodka there, the beer should be relatively easy to avoid. But, darn it, I love my chips!

I hope to get back to pursuing more photoremedy and posting pictures soon, but I will try to occasionally update readers on my “cyborg” progress. So many people have been so kind with prayers and well wishes – thank you all. I am so thankful for such a caring family and so many fabulous friends.

I am also incredibly thankful for the team of skilled health care professionals–doctors, nurses, technicians, physical therapists, and others–who have worked so hard at helping me win this battle.

Our blessings are many, and life is good!

Under the Knife Again

By Greg W. Gilstrap

The primary mission of this blog has always been related to encouraging individuals fighting significant health challenges to consider taking up hobbies or practices — like photography — that produce joy and elevate one’s spirit while moving their minds away from their ailments. Along the way, has created opportunities to share the fruits/photos of what can be created when one exercises this, for lack of a better term, alternative medicine approach.

I captured this gull as he floated above Ireland’s River Shannon.

I’ve always known that photoremedy alone was not the only answer to my struggles with what I am now told is “failed back syndrome.” I’ve had two brutal surgical efforts to rebuild my lower back following a broken vertebrae. Both of those efforts failed to produce meaningful results, and are now complicated by significant psoriatic arthritis and four degenerated discs in my neck. Lying in bed, sitting, and standing all tend to rapidly elevate pain levels; so, I spend most of my day changing positions and fidgeting like I did back in grade school. That’s a lot of fidgeting. Just ask my Facebook friend, and former Randolph Elementary School principal, Mr. Walters. Yes, Mr. Walters rightfully introduced me to his paddle on more than one occasion.

This combination of conditions has left me rather unbalanced, as I have lost significant motor skills in both my left leg and right arm.

In an attempt to reduce pain levels and fight declining functionality, I will head back to the surgeon’s table this week for a four-to-five hour surgery in which a two-surgeon-led medical team will implant two neurostimulators that will deliver 32 electrodes to both my lumbar and cervical spine. The new ‘gear’ is intended to sharply reduce pain and restore significant functionality. I’ll need to limit movement for six-to-eight weeks, but I hope to be able to blog again soon. I’ll keep y’all posted on my progress.

St. Jude Medical photos

My son, Will, says I will be a “cyborg” when we add the new electrical elements to all of the titanium I already have in my back. If it kicks my recovery into full swing, then he can call me anything he wants.

Personally, I am rather fond of “Iron Man.”

Chicken, Waffles, Birthdays, and Sacred Prayers

William and Andrew Gilstrap at Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles

November 16, 2012

Our oldest son, Andrew, celebrates his 28th birthday today. We had a great family kick-off to his ‘birthday week’ last weekend at the sinfully delicious Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles in Scottsdale.

It would have been a perfect day had Andrew’s lovely wife Katie been able to make it, but she’s a nurse and duty called. The rest of our gang was there–Mary, Will, Amanda & Stephen, Andrew and Emmett–so it took a while to get a booth big enough for all of us. It was worth the wait. I found Larry ‘Lo-Lo’ White’s soul food combinations unique, yet familiar. That is probably because, in my case, “You can take the boy away from his butter and chicken grease upbringing, but you can’t take the butter and fried chicken away from the boy!

As good as the food was, the company was even better. Mary and I later remarked how lucky we are to have great kids (although all are now adults). And, just as importantly, we feel so blessed to experience great kids having great kids.

Andrew is in his last semester of graduate school at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. As has been the case with Mary and all of our children, Andrew has been incredibly helpful as I have struggled to regain my health. He is a frequent contributor and editor for this blog; and continues to encourage me to seek healing through photography. Happy birthday, Andrew! Here’s our prayer for you on this special day.


Capturing Costas at Cronkite

By Andrew Gilstrap

Perhaps you don’t watch the MLB Network or NBC’s Sunday Night Football Coverage. If you don’t, then you’re probably not familiar with a certain sports anchor’s latest work. But certainly you recognize the name: Bob Costas. Surely you do. And I’ll bet you caught him at some point this summer anchoring the most recent Olympic Games in London.

To be honest, I haven’t seen a whole lot of Costas since NBC stopped airing NBA games. However, I was impressed to see my school, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, got the broadcast legend to visit the campus last week.

I went to the top floor of the Cronkite building last Monday evening to snap pictures of Costas’ visit to the Cronkite NewsWatch newsroom. And then the 23-time Emmy winner was back in the building Tuesday morning for a one hour question-and-answer session with Dr. Joseph Russomanno, a Cronkite school professor (who also happens to be my Media Law teacher this semester). Later on Tuesday, there was a special luncheon where Costas accepted the 2012 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.

I was not able to attend the luncheon, but I used his other two appearances on campus to try dozens of different shots of him with my Canon camera. I even walked by him in the bathroom as he was either washing his hands or splashing his face right before he went ‘on stage’ for the Q-and-A session on Tuesday. I had a perfect chance to either pester him or introduce myself, but, knowing that he was expected in our First Amendment Forum, I smiled nervously and left him alone.

With all that I look forward to doing in sports, this is a guy to look up to (even though he’s not all that tall, as I found out when I was in his presence). I’m surprised how youthful this broadcast icon still looks. It was also refreshing to hear his commitment to objective, non-sensational journalism. Too bad he’s doesn’t do anything with basketball at the moment, because that’s where I’d see more of his work.

Take a look below at a slideshow of some of my captures (with minimal edits) of Costas’ trip to the Cronkite school.

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It’s a Long Way to Tipperary

To view the photoremedy video slide show above in high definition, just click the play button. Hover over the video, then click on the sprocket icon to the left of the clock and select 1080p HD.

According to my sister, Julie, who traveled with my mother to Ireland more than a decade ago, my mom’s mother’s family was from County Limerick and her father’s was from County Donegal. I do not recall Mom singing about either of those areas, but I have fond memories of her waltzing through the house–often joyfully pantomiming a tuba player–belting out “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.”

Click here to hear an a capella version of the song.

More than 40 years after I first heard Mom intoning the famous 1912 Jack Judge World War I song, I finally made it to Tipperary. Mary and I combined it with an enticing sample of neighboring County Kilkenny when we traveled to Ireland this summer. Our all-too-brief two-county tour featured incredible photoremedy in colorful cities like Kilkenny and Cashel.

Kilkenny City – County Kilkenny, Ireland

Rock of Cashel – County Tipperary, Ireland

There was photoremedy to be found among the castles…

Kilkenny Castle – Kilkenny City

great restaurants, taverns, food, and nightlife…

Kilkenny City

beautiful, historic churches…

St. John the Baptist Parish Church – Cashel

and, our favorite: St. Patrick’s Well near Clonmel. According to Holy Well, “As you approach it, the waters from the well flow into a large and shallow pond with an ancient Irish stone cross set upon a small island in the middle. It is thought that this cross dates to the fifth century. For such a large, holy well and surrounding site, it is amazing just how little is actually known about this area, but it is thought that Saint Patrick passed through here and may have used this place to bathe or to baptize.”

St. Patrick’s Well – County Tipperary

Mary and I found this nearly hidden gem–recommended to us by our friends the Murphys–to be one of the most peaceful places we have ever experienced. With the well bubbling up and feeding the lake, and the lake tumbling into a picturesque stream, we felt a silent whisper, “This is holy ground.”

Yes, it was a long way to Tipperary (and Kilkenny). But, it was more than worth the wait. I just hope it doesn’t take too long for us to make it back.