What is it about being put “on hold” that drives me crazy?

The other day I made a phone call to a large corporation and my call was immediately transferred to the Pre-recorded Pacification of Permanent Hold: “All of our representatives are currently busy helping other callers. Please remain on the line and your call will be answered in the order that it was received. All of our representatives are currently….”

As I sat at my desk, phone pressed to my ear, a familiar hollow feeling started growing in my chest and I had an urge to drop the phone and run.

I stayed on the line and completed my phone call but the experience of being “on hold” bothered me. Talking to my wife and a few trusted friends helped me to deal with “the phone call”, but what really sparked an understanding of the feeling I had was when I read Sweet Mother’s post, What Rye Bread says About My Past. She told some of her childhood stories about her Great Grandmother and a deep memory of my Grandmother rose to the surface: Grandma was sleeping facedown on the rug.

When I was between 3 and 4 years old I stayed at my Grandparents farm while my parents worked during the day. My Grandfather worked in a steel mill, so it was just my Grandmother and me at home with snapping turtles downstairs in the basement and assorted cats, dogs, and chickens in the yard.

One day I woke up early to the false dawn of a Fall morning. The house was unusually quiet, there were no sounds of breakfast dishes being washed or food being prepared. I walked through the house to find my Grandmother and see what she was doing. To my left was her sewing room and it was there that I saw her stretched out on the floor, facedown, arms to her side.

I sat down and patted her on the back, the same way she did for me so many nights at bedtime. Grandma was sleeping soundly and I sat quietly and watched the shadows on the wall slowly brighten and march down the wall and around the room as time slowly passed.

At some point my Grandmother woke up and turned her head to me. Dried blood ran from her nose to her chin, her voice was weak and she talked in short spurts of 2 to 4 words at a time, “Grandma doesn’t feel well.”

“Aunt Jane will call.” My mother’s older sister, Jane, was a local school teacher and always called her mother on her lunch break.

“You can answer phone.” This was a huge responsibility because I wasn’t allowed to use the phone unless a grownup said it was OK and handed the receiver to me.

“She will call at lunchtime.” I couldn’t tell time, but I knew about lunch.

I divided my time between sitting with my Grandmother and going to the dining room and staring at the phone, reviewing how to use the device and planning what I was going to say.

“Tell her to come home….right away…Grandma is sick.” I sat in front of the phone with a hollow feeling in my chest, my heart was racing, and my throat was tight.

The sewing room was dark and the other side of the house was brightly lit when the phone rang. I picked up the receiver on the first ring, put it to my ear and said, “Grandma is sick. Come home now.” Then I hung up the phone.

My Aunt Jane reacted immediately: she called an ambulance, arranged for someone to take over her class, and drove to her mother’s house ASAP. My Grandparent’s farm was quite aways out-of-town and my Aunt had a lead foot so she arrived just ahead of the paramedics.

I got my first ride in an ambulance (in a rainstorm, no less) and my Grandma got the medical treatment she needed. That afternoon a surgeon successfully removed her gall bladder and straightened her broken nose.

Awakening to this incident with my Grandmother has been a blessing. In the future I plan to use the phone speaker or ear buds when I am in a situation that requires a waiting period on my part. At least I will have two hands free to get something done while I “remain on the line…”

Thank you, Sweet Mother.


Update: June 20, 2019

It’s been almost 6 years since I published this post and I have stumbled upon some interesting background information about Hold Music—why we have it, how we got it, and why it’s so terrible at times.

Click on the following link: Holding Patterns

  60 comments for “What is it about being put “on hold” that drives me crazy?

  1. August 15, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    YES. seriously, yes, i can’t stand when secretary types aren’t helpful. also, the image at the top of your blog is incredible.


  2. August 12, 2012 at 2:28 AM

    Very nice post. Could relate to this.


  3. August 11, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    Your very well-told story got me thinking about my “irrational” dislike of the telephone.
    I manage, but I have to really force myself to pick up the phone to make a call. No one would notice, but I think of it as a problem. I am better at receiving phone calls, but invariably express some annoyance before answering.
    It may well date back to when my grandfather dropped dead in our kitchen of a heart attack one morning when I was nine years old. I shall never forget the sound of the open oven door slamming shut as my mother let go of it in shock and shrieked. It was New Year’s Eve, and the party was to be at our house.
    Perhaps the agitation of all the subsequent phone calls cancelling the party, and of course, the many other calls made and received regarding funeral arrangements made an impression on me? Naturally, it was the adults doing the phoning not me, except for the occasional answering if my mother was busy, and asked me to do so.
    In fact, now that I have written this, I do believe your story has been the trigger to my finally being able to understand my fear of the phone!
    I do apologise for the long comment, but your story certainly struck a chord with me. Thank you! Congrats on the freshly pressed bit, too!


    • August 11, 2012 at 4:50 PM

      Thank you, Allison, for sharing your experience with your grandfather. There is no need to apologize for the length of your comment. I have found it to be very moving and if something that I wrote sparked your memory, and helped you in some way to deal with it, then I am humbled indeed.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment and good luck with the phone.



  4. riatarded
    August 11, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    Such an awesome post! Congratulations on getting freshly pressed! Oh my God! I am so glad your grandma got the treatment that she needed! x


    • August 11, 2012 at 4:54 PM

      Sometimes things do work out for the best and this was one of them. Thank you for your comments.


  5. oolalang
    August 11, 2012 at 12:37 PM

    That’s a really moving story to accompany such an irritating and mundane fact of life. It’s a remarkable relief that you could be there for your grandma even when you were so young. Thanks for sharing!


  6. transplantednorth
    August 11, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    wow! this read like something right out of a novel, truth is stranger than fiction sometimes. How did your grandma keep so calm, to not scare you at such a young age? Thank goodness she got help on time! You are a great story teller!


  7. August 11, 2012 at 7:28 AM

    Nothing to do your blog, but that is an amazing, but scary blog header photo. Did you take that photo? I have a moderate fear of heights..


    • August 11, 2012 at 10:39 AM

      Yes, I took that photo. We were up on the main cable one day and the fog started sliding in below us as we were returning to the ladder at midspan.


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