Cataract Surgery and the Police

By Erika Hoffman

Twenty-twenty vision was mine until age 42. The morning after I turned 42, I woke to blurry eyesight, not due to any celebratory libation the night before. I saw the optometrist. He diagnosed bifocals, and for the next twenty years every photo taken of me is of a bespectacled person. As time passed, my prescriptions strengthened.

Twenty years later, on a late January night as I drove to Raleigh to give a dog and pony show on penning the personal essay, I found that the approaching headlights on Falls of the Neuse Road mimicked the starbursts in Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. I couldn’t see. I heard folks honking. I wondered if I’d make it to the destination for my talk but also if I’d make it back home again – not in a box.

I went to see the optometrist. “I need stronger glasses – again,” I said, diagnosing myself. He used his instruments to peer into my orbs.

“You don’t,” he said.

“Oh, yes, I do. You would not believe the night I had a couple of weeks ago.” I launched into what I’m sure, in retrospect, was a long, boring narrative about the impolite drivers I encountered just because I was driving twenty miles below the speed limit with numerous brakings and making confusing turn signals.

“What you need is cataract surgery.”

“That’s for old people.”

“Tell it to your eyes.”

So, I had both eyes done one week apart in May.

Hallelujah! I can see clearly now. My backyard pool, I discovered, isn’t covered in green algae; my white shirts don’t need extra doses of Clorox; and my husband isn’t as swarthy as I’ve believed him to look for the past twenty some years… he’s kind of ultra-white in places. Anyhow, cataract surgery is a blessing. Yet, just as every misfortune has a silver lining so does a blessing have a caveat: Now, I need reading glasses.

I never misplaced my glasses before because I needed my bifocals for everything, and so first thing in the morning before I popped out of bed, I’d reach over to my nightstand and grab my glasses and put them on the bridge of my nose before taking a step. At night, the glasses were placed back in the same spot on the nightstand when I tucked in. I used to laugh at folks who’d lose their reading glasses and later discover they were on their heads. Such was my ignorance regarding the plight of those needing this kind of eyeglasses.

A few months after the restoration of my vision for far-off things, my out-of-state friends came to visit. While her husband went to a conference for two days, Beth stayed with me. Mike was en route back to my home that last day to pick up Beth when I had to make a phone call.

I didn’t recall the number but had it scribbled and taped on the inside of a cabinet above my phone. I didn’t have my reading glasses nearby and couldn’t remember where I’d left them. Nonetheless, I can sort of see without them. The number I was dialing began with our zip code here, 919. I pecked in the digits as I gazed at the scrap of paper on the cabinet, and I was a few numbers in before a voice came over the phone.

“What is your emergency?”


“What is your emergency, Ma’am?’

“No emergency. Sorry.” I hung up.

I proceeded to dial the number I had intended to reach, but this beeping noise started. It continued. I finally hit “Flash.”

“You hung up. This is 911 calling you back.”

“I misdialed. I couldn’t find my glasses. Sorry.”

“Well, you shouldn’t hang up. We must send a deputy if you hang up.”

“Don’t send a deputy, please.” I said, “Bye” and hung up.

Mike arrived. I made them some lunch, and the three of us chatted for about an hour before they were to return to Atlanta. Mike had the car almost packed and was going to get Beth’s last bag when my two miniature dachshunds started barking. They rushed around the kitchen table frantically. Mike went to the front side door. “I thought I heard a knock,” he said.

“Oh, these dogs bark at anything–a twig hitting the window will set them off.”

“No one’s there,” Mike said, returning.

We sat down to have a bite when we heard loud knocking at the door to my garage. The dogs surged toward this door as Mike walked behind them. I followed Mike. He opened the door. There, down a few steps in my garage stood a burly deputy with some sort of walkie-talkie he was speaking into and an “all business” attitude.

“Hello, Deputy,” I said as I peeked out behind Mike, who is about a foot taller than I.

“Are you, all right?” the deputy questioned, looking solicitous.

“Yes,” I said. Mike looked totally confused.

“Someone from here called 911, and we must come to check it out,” the deputy replied looking at us suspiciously.

“I told the operator I misdialed,” I said.

Still studying Mike with a dubious gaze, he said, “Someone might have coerced you to say that.”

Before I fully understood what he was implying, Beth popped up behind me and said, “She wasn’t wearing her reading glasses and hit 911 instead of 919.”

I guess the sight of two women with one man put his suspicions at ease.

When we returned into the house, I laughed. “Boy, do you think folks in their sixties usually have this much excitement in one day?”

My buddies soon left. I called them the next day to see how they fared driving down I-85 and if Atlanta had power restored from the outages caused by Irma and… if they’d been trailed by a squad car. But – I forgot to ask the most important question: Whatcha goin’ do when they come for you? Bad Boys! Bad Boys!

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman

    Erika Hoffman is a wife to one, a best friend to about six or seven, a past teacher to hundreds, a mother to four, a mother-in-law to three, a grandma to four under four, and a writer to thousands – hopefully!

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17 Responses to “Cataract Surgery and the Police”

  1. Nancy says:

    So cute! So alarming. So reassuring. So funny. And then, again, not so much!
    There’s no escaping that “bad boy”… aging catches us all!

  2. Eileen Williams says:

    I have been down the lost readers rabbit hole many times, so I keep them absolutely everywhere! Get a pair every time I go to the dollar store. Also, I am very glad our deputies are so thorough! Life certainly has many twists and turns 😁

  3. Judy Schlegel says:

    Loved this story! I bet you could also make a good story about the night you were driving.

  4. Maria Frangakis says:

    So is that what it is when you see stars on the road at night? Another signature story from Erika. Good for you!
    Keep’em coming!

  5. Maureen OBrien says:

    A fun and imaginative tale, spun from one of life’s little ‘inevitabilities.’ Love the way you reach to combine disparate events.

  6. I paid close attention to Erika’s cataract experience as mine are beginning to bloom nicely. Several friends have had one eye done for distance, one for reading. I doubt they have had as much fun as Erika did, though. Decisions. Decisions.

  7. beth fallaize says:

    so true I still look for my glasses everywhere but I have many pair

  8. Theadis Damewood says:

    That story was a hoot! I have reading glasses everywhere as well. Mine keep getting sprung by my husband who puts them on his head! He seems to need them as much as I do. I had Lasik surgery many years ago for the mono-vision. It was great until I hit about 50 and then the reading glasses had to make an appearance. Oh, well! I keep the Dollar Tree in business buying them all the time. I always love to read Erika’s stories!

  9. Robert Golden says:

    Nice piece. Having worn bifocals or the fancier variable focus lenses for about 30 years, I think reading glasses would be a real challenge, something else to forget along with umbrellas, phones, nice pens, and leather binders.

  10. Cora Brown says:

    Love this! Erika will be forever young thanks to her ability to find humor in the challenges we experience as we age.

  11. Dallas Swan says:

    Erika must enjoy the normal traumas of life because she can use them to make a hilarious story!!

  12. Jamie Weeks says:

    Note to self: Never, ever hang up if you accidentally dial 911! Thanks, Erika, for another amusing anecdote.

  13. margaret de st aubin says:

    Great story!! Had to put on my readers first!

  14. Rose Ann says:

    Loved this, Erika! The 911 call was priceless! We need to invent glasses that (easily) swivel from our faces to the top of our heads so we don’t forget where they are. It can double as a headband. Funny, relatable essay!

  15. Emily says:

    Erika has produced another “can’t stop reading this story”! She truly has a gift for taking everyday ordinary events and making connections to a broad audience in a humorous and entertaining way.

  16. Carol Trejo says:

    This story caught me laughing out loud! I can so relate to your very real experiences. I love the way you are able to share your stories…and laugh at yourself. Thank you.

  17. Hoo-boy, what a story. In my family, the cataract surgery happens around age 80, so I have a way to go. However the “trace” cataracts I already have make me uneasy when driving at night. “Starry Night,” eh? Ugh.

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