The story below was originally written in June 2019.
I first contacted Emilio Gonzalez [@emiliobodymod on Instagram] about having my eyes “tattooed” (injected with ink) on March 24, 2019 via Instagram chat, asking when he would next be travelling to New York City. He said that he would be in Miami and that I could fly to meet him there and that it would cost $2000. I agreed, deposited $500 cash into his TD Bank account as a down-payment and scheduled May 4, 2019 for the procedure.
Because Emilio is not a medical professional and has no formal medical education, I hired him based on the fact that he has been performing this procedure for almost a decade, on dozens if not hundreds of people, and has a great reputation in the ‘industry’. Although it is a dangerous procedure and I knew the physical risks, I hired him because he presumably has a technique that will minimize these risks. Despite some research into his background, I was not aware that any of his previous clients had complications from this procedure. He reassured me that none of his clients experienced the complications that arose with other ‘botched’ eyeball tattoo procedures performed by other people, and especially not ink that migrated beneath the eyelid.
Eyeball “tattooing” is not done like a traditional tattoo. A small syringe is used to inject ink between the sclera and conjunctiva of the eyeball in multiple places. Any doctor will tell you that they consider this a dangerous surgical procedure. I accepted the risk that I could possibly go blind.
I flew from New York City to Miami, Florida on May 4th, 2019, and Emilio picked me up at Miami airport around 11am with a female partner. He drove me to a nearby tattoo shop that felt about 15 minutes away, where the procedure would be performed. We were greeted by someone at the shop and let in and the door locked - before their usual business hours. I was given a standard tattoo waiver to sign, which I did. If I recall correctly, the tattoo shop did not complete its portion of the form at the time I signed it. After about 30 minutes I was called into a back room to begin the procedure, shortly after noon. Emilio’s partner assisted during the procedure by holding my eyes open. The person who greeted us at the tattoo shop only observed. Nobody else was in the establishment.
First we did my right eye. Emilio told me to stare as hard as I could to the right, and made an injection of ink on the opposite side of my eyeball. Then he told me to stare as hard as I could to the left, and made another injection on the opposite side. Then we started on my left eye. As before, he told me to stare as hard as possible to the right, and made an injection of ink on the opposite side of my eyeball.
At this point, I started shaking and feeling nauseous and having cold sweats, presumably because I had eaten very little in the prior 2-3 days due to the anticipation and excitement. I had eaten a couple chocolate chip cookies on the airplane ride from New York to Miami that morning. We stopped the procedure. I vomited, and was given a bottle of Coca Cola to replenish sugar. Emilio, his partner, and the person who greeted us at the tattoo shop went into another room while I recovered.
When they returned about 10 minutes later, Emilio said that he thought I should wait until the next day to finish the procedure, but that he would finish it ‘now’ if I wanted. He repeated - insisted - a few times that he thought I should wait until the next day. I insisted that we finish it immediately, and he agreed to do so.
He told me to stare as hard as possible to the right. He almost inserted the needle but jerked his hand away at the last second and said that I was not keeping my eye still enough. He did not want to finish the procedure. I told him to try one more time. This time he told me to stare downwards and that he would make the injection at the top of the eye - something he said that he did not usually like to do because it increases the swelling of the eyelid. Just before making the injection I noticed that the needle in his hand seemed to be filled almost all the way with ink. He made the final injection, then rapidly jerked his arm away. His reaction concerned me and I asked him how it went. He said “Perfect.” I paid him the remaining $1500 fee in cash, plus a $100 gratuity. He also gave me antibiotic eye drops. He and his partner drove me to my hotel, where I checked into my room.
About an hour after the procedure - now 1:30pm - I sent him photos of my eye and expressed concern about how swollen my left eyeball was. Emilio responded, “Looking perfect the eye is very good” “That’s completely normal”. I trusted him. I believed him. And at that moment I was very happy with my two blue eyes.
About 2 hours after the procedure - now 2:30pm - I messaged him again expressing concern about how swollen my eye was becoming. He messaged back, “Don’t worry…. That and more swelling is normal and expected”, and initiated a video chat with me. He told me that his most recent eyeball tattoo client had a similar experience, and to contact that person with any questions. I sent a message to this person [who responded a few days later].
About 12 hours after the procedure - now 2:30am - I messaged him again that I was now only able to see a tiny bit of light in my left eye, and that it appeared that waves of ink were clouding my vision. I thought this might have been caused by sleeping on the eye and popping the conjunctiva. My vision was becoming darker and darker. I was terrified.
Emilio had offered to drive me from my hotel to the airport the day after the procedure (May 5th) for my return flight to New York City, but did not respond to my messages early enough before checkout time so I took an Uber instead. When he did finally respond by video chat he told me to show him my eyes, then told me it was totally normal and to be expected.
Right afterward he sent me photos of his most recent client, who had a very swollen eye, and said it was normal. This is a client who he had given me as a reference and encouraged me to contact. I did not contact this person until after having the procedure done and becoming concerned by the swelling, and he did not respond to me until 4 days later. He told me that he had flinched during the procedure and gotten stabbed in that eye - the one that Emilio sent to me and said was perfectly normal.
So I flew back to New York City on Sunday evening, May 5th, blind in one eye.
I was in contact with Emilio by Instagram chat and video many times per day. I trusted him unconditionally and believed that he really cared about my well-being. But he lied to me with a straight face every single time, every single time told me everything was okay, perfectly normal, happens to lots of clients, give it two weeks and everything will be great. “Two weeks bro, two weeks! Give it two weeks, you’ll be so happy”. I was so happy with how my eyes looked immediately after the procedure. I really wish it had worked out. I never imagined that of all the possible complications, it would be a LIAR who convinced me not to seek medical treatment.
On Wednesday May 8th I flew from New York City to Berlin, Germany for work and planned to return on Monday May 20th. Shortly after I arrived at my employer’s office in Berlin, a coworker told me that I had blue paint running down my face (I was wearing sunglasses, and basically have ever since). The undiluted, over-injected ink in my left eye had finally started to ooze out, 6 days after the procedure. This was supposed to have happened in the first 24-48 hours as watery tears, not thick gobs of ink. It was at this point that I decided that I needed to seek medical treatment.
The next day, Saturday May 11th, I traveled to an eye clinic (an entire hospital dedicated just to eyes) on the outskirts of Berlin. Because it was a weekend, they were the only place that was open, and only for emergency care. While I was riding the train I messaged Emilio and told him what I was doing. He immediately began a video chat with me, telling me how I was making a mistake: “Naw bro you don’t want to do that.”. The doctors would laugh at me and not take me seriously, my experience was totally normal, happens all the time to his clients, two weeks bro two weeks trust me you’ll be fine.
I was seen by several doctors, who said they wanted to admit me that same day. I returned to the hostel where I was staying, grabbed my belongings, checked out, and returned to the hospital to be admitted. When I told Emilio what they said, his response was, “Get a second opinion.” It was the opinion of numerous doctors and high-tech diagnostic machines.
I remained in-patient in that hospital until Friday May 17th, where I received numerous intravenous antibiotics/medications and 5+ rounds of eye drops every single day. On Tuesday May 14th exploratory surgery was done - no ink was found in the anterior (front) of my eye, and the surgeon re-attached the retina which had become detatched, and cleaned out as much ink as he could on the outside. I obtained a MSDS for the ink from the manufacturer and gave that to the doctors. The surgeon said he suspects that there was some kind of reaction to the ink, which caused it to get into the back of my eye. They were very realistic about the prognosis and basically said, they did what they could and that I should just hope for the best. They released me from the hospital on Friday May 17th and advised me to follow up with an ophthalmologist as soon as I returned to New York City.
On Tuesday May 21st, the day after returning to New York, I sought treatment at the Weill-Cornell/New York Presbytarian hospital ophthalmology department, who saw me on just a few hours notice. They did a battery of examinations, and told me to return for followup in 2 days. At that follow-up meeting the doctor determined that my eye would need to be removed, and that I should schedule an appointment with the surgeon for the following Tuesday (May 28th), which I did.
On Sunday May 25th - one day after my birthday - I woke up extremely concerned about the condition of my eye and feared it was infected, and traveled to the emergency room of Weill-Cornell hospital at 6am. My left eye was removed in emergency surgery at 7pm.
He continues to lie on his Instagram page about how this procedure is perfectly safe “when performed by a professional”. He has hurt other clients in the past and continues to do so. Many of us do not report these things to police because we feel responsible for the choices we make and accept the risks. I fully knew and accepted the risks, and I am ultimately responsible for all the poor decisions that I made: deciding to have this done, hiring Emilio to do it, and then trusting his LIES and not seeking medical treatment when the wiser part of me knew that I should have. If he had only stabbed me in the eye, or admitted his mistake, or at some point said “that seems concerning, you should really see a doctor,” I would not be trying to press charges.