Friday, September 23, 2005

How Can I Help You?

Bruce Gaughran
Copyright 2004 - Revised March 2011

I sat in front of the phone for several minutes tapping my fingers on the desk.  It wasn't a question of whether I needed to make the call; I definitely did.  It was more a realization that things had come so far that I now needed professional help.

After several balks, I finally picked up the phone and dialed the number. 

As I listened to the pre-recorded message, I wondered if there was any business left in the world that had a real person answer the phone.  "Thank you for calling Clinician Services.  Please listen to the following instructions:  Press ‘1’ to enter your account information, Press ‘2’ to listen to your benefits, Press ‘3’ to ...” and after what seemed like an eternity, I heard, "Press ‘9’ to speak with the next available customer service representative." 

I pressed ‘9’ and another set of menu options became available.  "Press ‘1’ if this is an emergency, Press ‘2’ if you are a returning patient, Press ‘3’ if you need an authorization number, Press ‘4’ if you would like to speak with the next available representative." 

I pressed ‘4’ and heard the famous lines, "We’re sorry, but all of our representatives are currently helping other clients.  If you would like to continue to hold, press '1', press ‘2’ if you would like to leave a message, otherwise please call back later.  Thank you." 

My ‘death-grip’ on the receiver caused my hand to cramp.  I switched to the other hand, flicked my wrist a couple of times and wiped the sweat off on my pants.  I pressed ‘1’ and heard muzak playing in the background with interruptions every two minutes apologizing for the delay and asking me to press ‘1’ if I wanted to continue to hold. 

Twelve minutes and five interruptions; a real person finally came on the line.  "Good Morning," the cheery voice greeted me, "this is Angela on a recorded line.  How can I help you?"

After being on hold all this time I still stumbled not really knowing what to say.  "Um, I suppose you could say I’m having anger management problems.”  When I didn’t hear a response, I spat out, “And, do you know, or even care that I was on hold over twelve minutes waiting to talk to you?” 

"Oh, I am so sorry to hear that," was her canned response.  "Please know that we are here to help.  Before we proceed, however, I need to ask you a few questions to qualify your level of need.  First, have you ever considered or are you considering harming yourself?"


"Well, good.  Have you ever considered or are you considering harming someone else?"

"No,” I replied through gritted teeth.  I might want to hurt someone if I was put on hold again.

"Very good.  Now, are you currently taking, or have you taken within the last seven days, any legal or illegal drugs?"

"NO!"  But if I have to answer any more of these damn questions I might need some.

"Excellent!  Now I need to ask where you live so I can locate the nearest doctor."

"Columbus, Mississippi."

After what seemed like an hour of waiting; "Oh, I'm sorry; we don't have any doctors in your area.  However, I am certain we can find someone not too far away.  What is the nearest major city to Columbus?"


“Is Jackson also located in Mississippi?"

“Yessssss!”  Doesn’t anyone take geography in school these days?

After another couple of minutes, "Wonderful, we have two doctors in Jackson.  If you have a pen and paper ready, I can give you their contact information as well as an authorization number."

After taking down the information, I hung up and considered my next step.  I asked myself several times whether it was worth driving four hours round-trip to see a doctor for one hour.  Meanwhile, my fingers tapped out the song I had listened to while on hold. 

Knowing good and well that I had better make the call before I talked myself out of it, I picked up the phone.  The first call I made went to an answering service.  "I’m sorry; Doctor Clemonts is currently out of the office.  I can refer you to another doctor if this is an emergency."

Without saying a word, I slammed the receiver down causing the entire phone to become airborne.  I had better take it easy; I’ve already replaced the phone twice this month.  I picked up the phone, took a few deep breaths and dialed the second number. 

"Dr. White’s office."

In my most positive voice, I said, “Good Morning.  The Employee Assistance Program for my company referred me to Dr. White.  Could I speak to her please?"

"I'm sorry; Dr. White is not available.  Can I help you?"

Doesn’t anyone work anymore?  Breathe ... good, again … okay.  "Yes, well… maybe you can.  I need to make an appointment with Dr. White as soon as possible."

"Before I can make an appointment, you need to first talk with the doctor.  She wants to pre-screen all potential patients.  If you would leave your name and telephone number, I'll have her call you as soon as possible."

This was not what I wanted to hear.  I almost hung up, but instead I left my number and then slammed the receiver down.  There is something satisfying about the sound of the phone crashing down on the cradle. 

Fortunately, ninety-three minutes later Dr. White called.  I was relieved to hear her voice.  Perhaps I am finally making some headway. 

The first words out of her mouth after the introduction, however, were, "I need to let you know that I am no longer taking any long-term patients.  Do you believe your issue is something that needs long-term care?  If so, I need to refer you to another doctor."

My God, what have I got myself into?  Breathe … relax … you’ve come this far.  Give her a chance.  "I am not sure, but I hope not."

"Well, if this is short-term care, I would be able to see you.  What is the nature of your concern?"

"Anger management issues ... I – I’m very impatient these days.  I become frustrated easily.  I’ll tell you, Doctor White, this anger is destroying my marriage and my life."

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”

Didn’t I hear the same response earlier today?  “Do all of you people have the same cheat-sheet to read from?” 

“Pardon me?  I’m not certain what you are referring to,” was the doctor’s response.

NO, pardon me for bothering to call in the first place!  It appears you are too busy to take on anyone needing real help.  How the hell do I know if this is a short-term or long-term situation?  You’re the doctor!  Besides, do you know how long I was hold today before I could speak to a real person?  Well, do you?   

I gulped air trying to catch my breath.  There was silence on the line and I wondered if the doctor had hung up on me. 

“Uh huh, okay, I believe I now understand the nature of the problem.  Would this coming Wednesday at 11:00 work for you?”


  1. An awe-inspiring and sadly real depiction of what life is turning into these days. Nice job making the reader feel the anger. Nice build up. I really enjoyed the ultra-realistic ending. I look forward to reading more of your work.


  2. This nails it in one! I am laughing. It also makes me wonder if people who have issues with anger and impatience could attribute their problems to the advent of answering services!

    Write On,

  3. haha great stuff here. Thanks for the read!

    Keep up the great writing as I really look forward to reading more of your posts!!!!


  4. I can't say that I've ever had anger management problems, but it was so easy to get inside the main character's head that I felt like he did. Slamming down the receiver and the frustration at the speech from the doctor and hotline was great.

    I also liked how you had the main character's thoughts interjected throughout the story. This is just a suggestion, but I'd like to see more of these. I'm sure there's something else he could be thinking...

    Great job!


  5. Hi Bruce,

    I found this short story about a man seeking help for anger management problems extremely well-written and funny! You've done a good job here!

    One thought: I think you write "keypad" and not "key pad", but I could be wrong.

    Kind regards,


  6. Bruce, what is a bock?

    I found only one thing, I would consider changing. You wrote I rambled on. I think ranted is closer in meaning to what's going on.

    Well written, easy to read and understand, and most of all fun.


  7. This is a great story. I know the feeling, and if the story was based on some real experience, I sympathies. I hate phones.

    Some suggestions:

    I rambled on for several more minutes about all the crap I had gone through today just to talk to someone who might be able to help. By the end of the tirade, I was frothing at the mouth, but somewhat surprised and even pleased that I hadn’t broken the phone cradle with one of my famous hang-ups.

    I think the first sentence could end at "I rambled on"; what do you think? What follows is not really necessary, and it makes the story lose some of the dynamism. By deleting part of that sentence, you'd make it more dynamic.

    Thinking that I had heard this same canned response earlier today, I replied a little nastily, “Do all of you people have the same cheat-sheet to read from?”

    How about something like:

    "Didn't I hear this before?

    “Do all of you people have the same cheat-sheet to read from?” I replied."

    I think that changing this paragraph in this direction (you'll probably come up with something much better than my suggestion) would make it more dynamic; sometimes descriptions are like ballast, they make the story heavier, sort of. I find it hard to explain but I hope you'll know what I mean.

    Thank you for an exciting and funny read!


  8. It doesn't get any better than this. You had me at press 2 and at the words 'anger management' I was rolling on the floor and couldn't stop laughing. It has everything a satire needs.

    You've captured the essence of the non-human phone system. Thank you.

    OnWords & UpWords


  9. Good story. I have had my share of calls like these. Keep on writing.


  10. Bruce,

    Ah, the issues of an angry man clearly described in a one powerful telephone conversation -- and you captured it all in your easy-to-read written piece. This is very good. It was funny too.

    Keep writing with sound words,

    Tim Light

  11. Good job. In today's world, I can see this happening!

    One suggestion:

    I rambled on for several more minutes about all the crap I had gone through today just to talk to someone that could help.

    Perhaps...someone who could help?

    Thanks for sharing.



  12. How easy it is to empathize with your angry man when he's on hold, endlessly, on the phone. His reactions are extreme, but the situation is designed to bring out his weakness and show it in action, making it more vivid to the reader (who may be remembering thinking the same sort of things, last time they were listening to muzak)


    This was short and there were no surprises, no story. It was a scene, well described, realistic and uncontrived. I think, given the way you were building this up and the shape of the overall piece, the rant should not have moved into indirect speech as fast as it did. It read truncated, there.

  13. Very well written and I have to say, I can totally relate to this piece. Anger management isn't something to laugh about, but I did find the piece amusing as well has eye-opening.

    People have really lost the ability to control rage, or find a constructive way to release it. I've had my own problems with this and am working to improve. It's a fight every day, but well worth the change.


    I noticed that you were trying to use tags to make things italics, or bold print. Here on, we have what's called Writing ML code and can be found under Author Tools-Writing ML Help in the upper left hand scroll bars of every screen. For italics, instead of using [i], we use {i}. Same for all other tags to change your piece.

    Again, the sentiments in your story are well formed and thought out. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your piece, and hope to see more. Thanks for sharing!

  14. If you only knew how many times this has happened to me in various forms. I can tell it was a man because he didn't start crying like I did many times and it didn't help. My husband always thinks I am really losing my mind and believe me, sometimes I think I am losing it also!!

    Anyway, I could really relate and it is a great story!!


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