May 12, 2018

Thunderstorms, 42 Degrees, Calm Winds.

I am lying flat on my stomach on the living room floor. There is thunder and lightning outside and I think it is morning, but it’s actually 2:30 in the morning.

I’m lying on my stomach because that is the first exercise my physical therapist wants me to do every morning to begin straightening my back.

I’m lying here at this hour because my back is hurting quite a bit, something I haven’t had in a few days now. The pain is in my left lower back, a different location as well, but closer to the source of my actual problem.

I had my physical therapy (PT) appointment yesterday afternoon and, after doing a number of evaluations of the movements and strength of my legs, the therapist told me that I have a pinched nerve at the base of my spine, caused by pressure from a disc that is bulging.

I had not believed this injury had anything to do with my spine, but he illustrates easily how just a few simple stretches, arching my back, my leg strength improves like night and day.

The injury I thought was the cause of my pain was nothing more than a symptom of my back cramping up to protect the nerve exiting my spine.

A bulging disc is caused by pressure on the front of the disc, and in this case, by bending forward and then loading the spine with heavy furniture. The disc was probably already bulging somewhat, from years of poor posture or just from age.

The good news is that I have been feeling much better lately, walking comfortably, for example, although the numbness remains in my lower leg and weakness remains in my left leg.

The physical therapist discovered that the weakness is in my hamstrings, not my quadriceps, which surprised me, but was easily demonstrable by him resisting movement from those muscle groups. He could easily overpower my hamstrings, which should not be possible.

Further good news, as I saw it, is that simple exercises could immediately improve my leg strength, and therefore improve my condition. Repeated daily exercises, all essentially curving my spine backwards in the lower back area, should eventually squish the disc back into a more appropriate shape, relieving my pain.

But this morning’s pain I know is caused by the exercises I did yesterday. I call them exercises, but they amount to lying on the floor and arching my back up by pressing up with my arms.

There is one exercise that involves lying down on my stomach and arching my back by propping myself up on my elbows for five minutes. That one really hurts in the area where I am hurting now, at 3:00 in the morning.

I am now wondering if in fact I have a ruptured, or herniated disc, rather than just a bulging one. If the disc is ruptured, then it is torn open and the goo inside the disc is squeezed out and presses on a nerve. I am thinking that putting pressure on this extruded goo might well cause more pinching of the nerve, rather than squeezing an intact disc back into place.

So, now I’m wondering if I might be looking at an MRI and surgery in my future, rather than a few weeks of physical therapy. Crap. To put it mildly.

So it’s back to bed, where my wife informs me that it’s 3:00 in the morning, not 6:00 as I had imagined. I try to find a comfortable position and get back to sleep.

I awake again at 6:30, aware that we are having furniture being delivered some time between 7:00 and 11:00 am. I doubt they will be here at 7:00, but I don’t want to be hobbling to the door in my underwear with extreme back pain, so I roll out of bed and hobble over to the living room floor, where

I repeat the routine from 2:30. It doesn’t relieve any of the pain I’m experiencing, but I take a pain reliever and get dressed.

I head for the kitchen to feed the cats and then myself. My back hurts like hell. It’s truly excruciating just to stand up, even if I don’t put pressure on my left leg. I can barely get through making toast and coffee.

Well, that’s where I’m at this morning. I’m not planning to photograph this morning because I have to be here for the furniture people, but I will slip out for a few minutes to take Jamie over to his friend Hank’s house for a walk. That’s assuming I can walk.

I will likely do at least some kind of photography today, though I may not go until evening. I’ve been learning something about photography recently, that is pushing me to shoot only very early and very late in the day.

These are the classic golden hours. Every photographer knows that these are the best hours of the day to photograph, but I’ve never fully understood why. Now I know.

Of course the colorful light of morning and evening are part of it. That’s inherent in the name “golden hour.” Now that I’ve taken literally thousands of photographs in a few months, I have seen the significant difference the color of the sky makes in a photograph. I see it every time the weather changes, which is all the time.

The difference between flat gray clouds and a blue sky with colorful clouds is like night and day. The color from the sky is reflected off of almost everything in any scene, and as a backdrop, it’s much more attractive than a flat gray backdrop.

The thing I’ve recently learned is that it’s the contrast between the subject matter, say a flower, and the brightness of the sky and general environment, that creates the look of photographs taken early and late in the day.

If you photograph a flower at mid-day, there will be a huge contrast between the flower and the extremely bright sky. It’s an okay look, but not very attractive, really.

The same flower, shot at dusk or dawn, will positively glow against a muted sky and environment and look absolutely magical. I noticed this very thing both last night and this morning when I looked at our flowering dogwood through the living room window.

This effect has also become obvious when shooting the overhead tree shots that I like so much. Shot at mid-day or on a bright cloudy day, the contrast between the sky and the trees is extreme. The trees are forced to black and the sky to white as the camera struggles to record the extreme contrast.

On an early morning or late evening with a mixed sky of blue and colorful clouds, the contrast is much reduced, and the pictures are more soothing. The trees can show some detail and color, and the sky can have detail and color as well.

Now, there are times when a bright, sunny day at mid-day is what you’re after, though I will wager it’s not very often.

There are also things that can be expressed by photographing on a dark or cloudy day. If you want to create a sense of foreboding or mystery, a cloudy, dark day can create the right mood. But failing that intention, it will probably just make for dull photographs.

So, keep these things in mind when you are taking your own photographs. You may find a beautiful subject, but be puzzled when your photograph comes out uninspiring. It is likely the light and the time of day that you were shooting in.

If you’re shooting a portrait, do your subject a favor by getting them out of direct sunlight and into open shade, where their features will be softly lit and their eyes won’t be squinting painfully into the sun.

Photograph that beautiful flower after the sun has set or around sunrise and it will look completely different than it does in broad daylight, where it will look ordinary at best.

There you go, that’s your tip of the day.

I’m off to walk Jamie, and I’ll photograph later in the day, when the light is better. I may or may not get to the woods today. But I’ll be back there tomorrow for sure.

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