DJI drone

Reviewing is part of the job as a publisher. You want to score review units as a smaller publication to make your mark in an industry which isn’t lacking for review sites. Late last year into 2018, I had the opportunity to review DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro.

On the surface, it seemed like an easy assignment. Head out to cool spots, grab some video and stills. Talk the specs. Give it a score. What’s so hard about that? It lacks honesty and ignores the story of how DJI’s line of drones helped me recapture the pieces of my life I thought were lost. My passion for photography. Enjoying and exploring what’s around me.

While DJI is spot on with marketing the amazing shots and video, there was a subject I felt was being overlooked in each marketing blitz. Those shots can be captured by people with accessibility issues or medical conditions. And that’s where my journey intersects with DJI.

lightning shot on Phantom 3 Pro

For three years, I’ve been on a medical rollercoaster I labeled my personal House episode. It’s not Lupus. They checked. Four times. Still disappointed Olivia Wilde wasn’t one of my doctors, but can’t have everything, right?

The range of symptoms were and can be absolutely crippling. One is heat intolerance. I live in Alabama, and suddenly I have heat intolerance. The universe has a sense of humor. Chronic fatigue for a guy who has a ton of nervous energy. Insomnia. Crippling vertigo and dizziness. Unrelenting nausea. Muscle spasms.

Optic Neuritis literally a week after I bought new glasses – past the pain, it always makes me laugh. My entire left side rebelled against me going from weakness to numbness to whatever random pain it felt like. Sounds horrible, but I’m a flooring expert with the number of falls I have endured. Plus, I’m right-handed, so glass half-full. The symptom list fills two, single-spaced pages. Hollywood, you reboot everything. I have you covered on House Returns.

A short version is I couldn’t trust my body not to act up and risk hurting myself further. Those hikes to capture stills or video? Gone. Well, sorta. I’m extremely stubborn, but after multiple falls, you listen to your mother on the matter.

Enter DJI’s camera drones. While I couldn’t hike certain distances, I could power up a Phantom 4 Pro and instantly be transported to experience landscapes, cityscapes and put it through its paces. Hey, don’t advertise top speed and expect me not to test that feature.

Instead of dwelling on moments lost, the Phantom 4 Pro and drones before it helped me see the moments I could and will capture. I moved past what felt limiting into the recognition the world was, is and will always be open to us.

It’s not just about the content created. It’s time I spent with my brother. My dad. My mom. Friends. Life is better captured, but it’s best when experienced. While I went through test after test, I could always slap a battery in and experience the world around me.

And that brings us to today. Years of being tested but never treated finally led me to the Mayo Clinic. Four months of testing and I have answers – dysautonomia, SSCD and assorted forms of migraines. It puts names to symptoms. More importantly, it handed me treatment plans.

My initial treatment? IV fluids to act as a blood volume expander. The universe has a sense of humor because I’m difficult to set an IV on here and there, much less twice a week. It’s a process and one that’s tougher to embrace than one might think. I began to remember how good it felt to feel well.

The path to a diagnosis didn’t force me to redefine myself. It opened my eyes to the definition of who I am and what I can accomplish. Limitations are transient. Speed bumps to roll over and explore the world. With a controller in hand, I can put a Phantom 4 Pro in spots I want to see and experience. The upcoming treatments will shed symptoms allowing me to stretch further from the constraints of the diagnosis.

It’s all too easy to focus on the objective view from 50,000 feet supposedly devoid of any emotion. What you have is final. Falling prey to the fatalism that creeps into the bad days. But it’s wrong. That ‘objective’ view isn’t the final word. It’s packed with cynicism and self-doubt.

The view from eye-level is where I found my strength and hope. We each get a voice. I never gave up as the symptoms spiraled out of control. My family was great every step to fight and lift me up. The doctors and nurses never stopped searching.

Yet, there is one piece most overlook. An outlet which isn’t constrained by whatever adversity you’re facing. Each of us has something that, while can be shared, is your personal escape. A foothold on a path leading us back to what had started to fade.

In my case, it was a series of drones. From the Phantom 3 all the way to the Phantom 4 Pro. Each helped dispel the notion I would have to forgo my passion for photography.

What about the review assignment mentioned at the start? It’s in the works, and I’ll be harping on better cameras and more battery life. But a traditional review could never express what the DJI drones did for me and what the technology represents for me and others. It helped make the world around me accessible. Made me dream again. You won’t find those listed as features on DJI’s website.

In that case, I’m biased and will defend that bias as fervently as I fought to find answers and treatments. It doesn’t mean the Phantom 4 Pro is perfect. Or any DJI drone. Nothing is perfect.

But, what it and other camera drones offered me can never be reflected in a review score. An escape. Whatever I was facing that day gave way to boundless optimism on each takeoff. And proof I would not lose photography.

It’s that rekindled passion for photography and treatment plans which have laid new possibilities in front of me. Each representing a new challenge. Calling on me to venture forth.