Zimmer still having eye trouble
WALTON, Ky. — Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is not past the serious stage with his troublesome right eye, but finally there is light at the end of his long, dark tunnel.
The gas bubble stabilizing his retina remains in place two weeks after Zimmer initially thought it would dissolve. He is scheduled to be examined by doctors in Cincinnati next week to determine whether he can resume flying — or will have to drive from his offseason home back to Minnesota for training camp.
Zimmer has had eight surgeries since November to restore vision that started fading the night before Minnesota's Oct. 31 loss at Chicago. Following his last operation in mid-May, Zimmer had hoped the bubble would dissolve in four to six weeks but the process is taking longer.
"Someone who's had multiple surgeries, it can take up to 12 weeks," said Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman.
Sugarman traveled to northern Kentucky this week to examine Zimmer and coordinate appointments with eye doctors in Cincinnati and the Twin Cities. Zimmer said he plans to return to Minnesota July 20. Rookies are scheduled to report to camp in Mankato July 23; veterans July 26.
"There's no lens in the eye, so all I can see is shapes," Zimmer told the Pioneer Press. "Once this bubble goes out, I can get a contact supposedly to see."
Doctors could insert a permanent lens in Zimmer's left eye.
"Which we're not going to do that," Zimmer insisted. "We're not having more surgeries."
Or, Sugarman said, they can fit Zimmer for a daily contact lens once he's comfortable touching his eye. In the meantime, Zimmer — who wore traditional contact lenses before his injury — would have to wear eyeglasses on the field.
"The doctor thought his vision could come back, with a contact (lens), close to 20/20," Sugarman said.
The Pioneer Press visited Zimmer at his Kentucky ranch to talk about the upcoming 2017 season. He and Sugarman talked about how the team discovered the detached retina and sought to tamp down speculation that the notoriously stubborn head coach exacerbated his injury by overworking.
"This is the God's honest truth," Zimmer said. "I didn't do anything that the doctor didn't tell me to do. If they told me to go and lay flat for 24 hours, I did. I laid down face-first on the massage table. He never told me once I couldn't look at film."
Sugarman described Zimmer as "a perfect patient. He did everything appropriately. I made sure he followed the rules. People have this perception that the reason he's had eight surgeries is because he didn't follow the rules. I don't think that's a fair assessment of what happened. I also think it's fair to say there's no surgeon who screwed up."
Before the Monday night game at Soldier Field, Zimmer summoned Sugarman and team physician Dr. Sheldon Burns to his hotel room, complaining about seeing "flashers" in his eye.
Plans were made to have him examined when the team returned to Minnesota, but during the game a gust of wind on the sideline knocked Zimmer's laminated play card into his eye, scratching it badly.
Burns examined him after the game and implored Zimmer to see an eye doctor first thing Tuesday morning.
"Three times I said, 'There's no way. It's a short week. I don't have the time,' " Zimmer recounted. "He said, 'You have to do it.' He said, 'I'll get you in at 8 o'clock.' I said I'm out of there at 8:30.' Next thing I know, I was going there to the retina guy."
Zimmer scratching his eye on the sideline might have been a blessing in disguise.
"It did help precipitate us making it an emergency," Sugarman acknowledged. "So, it probably did help because he probably wouldn't have gone otherwise, and maybe would have been blind."
"I wouldn't have," Zimmer said, flashing defiance. "And I wouldn't have needed eight surgeries."
Zimmer's initial operations failed to re-attach his retina. He was forced to miss a pivotal Dec. 1 home loss to Dallas, which Zimmer watched while lying on the couch at his Minnesota townhouse.
Eight months later, Zimmer remains under doctors orders to sleep on his back or left side only. He wears safety goggles tooling around his 176-acre ranch in his Quadractor.
Sugarman is his chief nag, driving Zimmer to his appointments and back home to rest while refusing repeated requests to take him back to work at Winter Park. In some ways, the coach and trainer sound like an old married couple — correcting and finishing each other's sentences — while sharing gallows humor over the gory details.
Zimmer was asked what it was like watching a needle being inserted into his eye, and Sugarman piped up.
"It's phenomenal! Imagine the white of the eye when they pull the needle out and it just bleeds. It's just disgusting!" he said.
Anesthetic is issued via eye drops but during one laser procedure it had not quite taken effect.
"That got his attention," Sugarman said. "It's kind of like drilling into a cavity and you feel it."
After minicamp concluded last month, Zimmer's son, Adam, drove the pair from the Twin Cities to Dallas for the June 24 wedding of Zimmer's youngest daughter, Corri. Two days later, Zimmer arrived at his ranch about 20 miles south of Cincinnati.
"I think we're out of the woods," Zimmer said as he and Sugarman each knocked the wood on his flat-top bar.