DOUBLE VISION: The Zach Martin Story

“What if the organ donor was a detective or something and after the transplant I start seeing visions of murders he wasn’t able to solve before he died. I could start helping solve these murders and the show would be called DOUBLE VISION! That could be cool.”  This was the real conversation La and I had the day before my keratoplasty. I also learned this past week that the medical term for a a cornea transplant is “keratoplasty”.

Monday, I had finally gotten the energy to start cleaning my studio and getting back to work. I got about 60% and sat down to start painting miniatures for the first time in a few weeks. I’ve been mostly exhausted from dealing with the dental stuff and getting La’s medical stuff worked out. But I was finally feeling energized and excited to get to work. I sat down and I started painting a bunch of little radish men warriors, a commission for a friends boardgame. I made a bit of progress on laying out the base coats of things, but I decided to get up from the desk about an hour and half in and go sit with La to check on her (she was feeling under the weather all evening) and watch some tv with her. We sat and watched some Always Sunny in bed. To get more comfortable I shifted my weight slightly and I felt my eye start to water. Suddenly I felt a feeling I hadn’t felt in a couple years, but I knew the feeling instantly.

I’ve been dealing with a scarred cornea for several years now, almost four maybe by now actually. I had a stress ulcer form on the surface of the cornea and while doctors were pumping me full of steroids for weeks on end I ended up contracting a cold sore virus IN MY FUCKING EYE! Finally I was connected to Dr. Yen Neiman (a Corneaologist) and she’s helped get the virus under control for the most part over the years. My eye began to hear and a scar formed over the ulcerated cornea, leaving me partially blind in that eye. The eye itself retained function, however it’s been more like trying to look through shower glass. A couple years ago the scar opened back up however. When it did I had no idea what was happening. my eye began to swell while watering profusely, for a brief moment I could see clearly out the eye for the first time in forever, but with tiny electrical looking shimmers in my eye sight, it immediately ended when the searing pain of light sensitive migraines began. The cornea is the main light filter of the eye, and without a solid one, too much light into the eye feels like a drill being bored into your brain from said eye. It is still some of the most immense pain I’ve felt in my life. I felt all of this again in that moment when my eye began to water, I knew things just went south.

We called the afterhours line, and my Dr called me back.


Tuesday, I called out of work, and in the afternoon drove myself to my emergency appointment with the Doc. I had had a really pleasant appointment with her back in February, the virus seems reigned in and the scar was still there but healed over. We ended that appointment with her saying “As long as we can keep you on this path for the next year, we can discuss a transplant to restore that damaged tissue and give you some sight back in that eye”. It was a relief in the midst of all of my new dental medical issues springing up. The doctor comes into the room and sees my swollen eye, pries it open to look through the magnifier and says “You are in really bad shape, I’m going to take you to the back and we’re going to glue cornea back together, then you’re going to come back tomorrow and if it looks like it’s going to heal on its own we have some time.” I meekly interjected that I was supposed to go to the dental school tomorrow, to which she cut me off “You’re not going anywhere tomorrow if you want to keep that eye.” She left the room to prep the eyeball gluing dungeon, or whatever it is. I was upset, I rapidly text Laura everything that had just happened in the appointment and what else was about to happen. I was now scared that my eye would also cost me my medical treatment, as you’re not allowed to miss more than two appointments, and you have to give 48 notice there-in. Laura called them and took care of it (short story version, they’re rescheduling me in July, I’m still in the program)

The lab tech came in and took me back to the minor surgery room where the doctor then laid me back in the chair, clamped my eye open and proceeded to GLUE my cornea together, she then capped it off with a protective contact lens. It hurt very much. Not as much as the migraines do of course, but I’ve never had to have my eye clamped open and a series of salves and epoxies smeared over my eye before, she worked for I don’t know how long, it could have been 10 minutes but it felt like an hour, and the way I can understand that the gluing was only probably 10 minutes was because I then had to lay there while the glue set, for another ten minutes which also felt like another hour. I laid there, my eye on fire, the good now also mostly swollen shut out sympathy for it’s brother I guess. The new/inept lab tech didn’t say two words to me, and when she led me back to my appointment room, didn’t much care to help me navigate my way back. I walked into the room and Laura was suddenly there with Dr. Nieman. She had been filled in on what was bad, Laura hugged me I think, and told me that some of our other friends were there to take us home and drive my car back. Dr. Nieman then told us that if the glue isn’t doing the trick by tomorrow when I came back we’d have to talk transplant, but the surgery center they use has been flooded since all the rain, so she’d hoped this would buy us time.

We went home thanks to our friends Charles and Brendan, with whom my wife works, for helping us home that night. Laura had to continue to pry my eye open and administer eye drops every two hours while I was awake. It was hard to sleep considering I could feel the glue and the contact up against my swollen eyelid. Just scratching ever so much. Laura ordered me pizza that night, pizza is my comfort food.


Wednesday we had a very early follow up that my mom picked us up and took me to. Dr. N was pleased with how the glue was holding, but then began talking about calling the hospitals and finding a surgical room, she also managed to secure the last piece of corneal donor tissue in town currently. She left room and made some call and came back and said “Tomorrow, Seton Northwest, 11 am arrival time, your transplant starts at 1:00pm. I’m cancelling my afternoon clinic hours for the afternoon tomorrow so we can can get you squared away.” And all of the sudden I was lined up for surgery. We stayed at my mom’s that night and all the way through until Monday, I was now decommissioned and Laura ended up taking the rest of the week off to take care of me. Nothing much else happened Wednesday besides being drugged up, my eye still hurting and burning, and La having to pry it open every two hours to administer drops that burned even more.


Thursday, we got there and got in, and the hospital had a weird power surge. So that was scary, but they took extra time to check all the ORs to make sure everything was functional. by 12;30 I was in my gown, being prepped for anesthesia, a forearm puncture IV seemed odd and also hurt a lot, but it didn’t hurt as much as my eye, and it wasn’t like they give you an option. I said I love you La (I think) as the first wave of drugs took over and whisked me away before they even wheeled me into surgery. The surgery takes anywhere from 45-90 minutes, mine was closer to 90, but the doc came out and told La and my mom that it went well and they’d get to see me real soon. They did not however. Apparently when taking my breathing tube out my vocal chord clamped shut in what it called a Laryngospasm. I stopped breathing and they apparently had to ventilate. All I remember is coming to and hearing nurses telling my every three minutes to keep taking deep breaths. I guess they told me what had happened, but I remember that had a shift change and the nurse guy who took over the looking after me was kind of a dick. They were letting me eat crushed ice because my throat hurt and when I asked for more ice he brought tepid water. He was also more concerned with finishing a paper for one of his classes. I remember him telling another nurse that he’d hoped he’d have time to finish after we’re done with him. ALSO, the part is really upsetting, is that by this time it’s almost 5:30 by the time they let Laura come see me (almost 3 hours after the Dr. came out and said it went well) A nurse never came out to inform them of the complications I’d endured and that I was fine, they just let her sit and worry. Finally they let her in though and she sat with me for some other amount of time, pretty much through the rest of the night I was a groggy, drugged out mess. When I had come to, I said my throat hurt, they gave me Vicodin, so by the time the anesthesia wore off  it kicked in and I was pretty much out for the count all night. I think we watched Hotel Transylvania 2 when we got back to mom’s. Well I know we did, but I couldn’t tell you what happened during it. Then I fell asleep and Laura had to watch me sleep all night because my breathing was still so erratic, but they discharged me anyway.


Friday, another friend, Guen, drove us to my post op follow up. That morning’s tech had me take the patch off my eye and I did the basic vision test, he asked me if I could see, and I could see part of him, so held up fingers and I was able to (just barely) count them, and I did it correctly! For the first time in two years I just passed a vision test on that eye. Laura teared up, the tech cheered, and I worked very hard not to tear up, because I don’t want to interfere with the healing. Though as I write this, remembering that moment just made me tear up. Dr. Nieman was pleased with the early stages of healing, gave me a regiment to follow, two steroids every morning, two anti-virals, two different eye drops, each 4 times a day. We spent the rest of the weekend at my mom’s so I could heal and rest and sleep upright in here theater loungers.


Monday we took Laura back to work, and I went with my mom out into the world and also to the grocery.  I was finally less light sensitive and was able to adjust from indoors to outdoor light with only minimal pause. Laura I and I stayed at our own place again Monday and our friend Ashley was kind enough to bring us tacos.

Yesterday I drove myself around a little for the first time in a week and it helped me deal with all the cabin fever that’s been setting in. I’ll go back to work on Monday finally, but my vision is improving every single day, I can read larger pieces of test and I was able to sit and write all this stuff in one sitting. so that’s cool. There’s a lot a can’t do while I’m healing, but I am healing, and I’m already seeing more in this eye that I have in years, I’m very thankful, to the donor, to all the friends who have helped us around town, to all the friends and family who reached out with support, and of course Laura and my Mom. What weird year this has been.

Leave a Reply