ANDREW MILLER: Thoughts that keep me up at night aren’t all bad but I do worry for our youth

Andrew Miller
The Nightly
ANDREW MILLER: Thoughts that keep me up at night aren’t all bad but I do worry for our youth
ANDREW MILLER: Thoughts that keep me up at night aren’t all bad but I do worry for our youth Credit: Supplied/The Nightly

Are you afraid of the dark?

1.00 AM

Even in the deepest part of my sleep, I knew this was no dream. I could hear the five-year-old coming down the hall. She was running, yelling out for me “Dad, are you there?”

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“Of course!” I called back, lurching unsteadily onto bare feet. My eyes blinked open as I scooped her up. She felt feverish and her heart pounded fast against my chest.

“Did you have a bad dream?”

“Mm-hmm,” she replied as I lowered her into her mother’s open arms, nestling her head on my pillow.

“I dreamt you were gone” she mumbled. We didn’t press for any details. I just lay down beside her, rubbing her back gently for a while as her breathing eased into a deep rhythm.

“Mummy and I will always be here,” I lied. It’s best not to broach mortality in the wee hours. She has plenty of time to learn that even the best promises are conditional.

I knew it would be some time before my sleep would return. The buzzing lights in my head were back on, and the usual queue of impatient issues was jostling for attention.

Soon it will be the last time that she calls for me in the night — that is how it is supposed to be. I surrendered and got up to drink some water.

1.30 AM

I am fine with being woken at all hours, after decades of on-call medical work, but I seldom regain sleep easily.

Doctors can tell how close to burn-out we are by the number of times we swear when the phone rings in the night.

When it is three or more F’s in a row, we need better work-life balance — as if those two things are equivalent on some scale, or even separable concepts.

When we deny that we are exactly the same person at work as we are at home, we start becoming an imposter everywhere.

2.00 AM

How on earth will our kids get by? With student debt, interest rates and cost-of-living compounding, the path ahead of any five-year-old seems daunting, unless they are big in the inheritance business.

The social contract has deteriorated — finding any place to live is hard, and those of us already housed are stuck. The game of musical houses is paused. There is precious little to buy, and nothing much to rent if a landlord pulls the rug.

Retirement seems too unstructured for me anyway. How much of who I am will retire with my professional role? Everyone likes to be needed.

I’ll keep going — just turn up the phone, so I don’t miss any calls. A desperate surgeon once had to wake me by throwing pebbles at my window at 4 AM, which sounds more romantic than it was. How will I cope, knowing I am no longer required, even after hours?

This new generation does seem better at wearing a rounded identity — including at work.

2.30 AM

I admire the new cohort of honest, values-oriented workers who call out hypocrisy, and stand up for themselves. We suppressed our needs, even for sleep, to prop up hospitals that would have been safer with more staff. It wasn’t heroic — exhausted doctors are not good for patients.

There is a time when intense experience is useful, but the eagerness of youth is too easily abused by unreasonable demands.

3.00 AM

The thought that this young one will be better educated about priorities and values brought me soporific reassurance.

She felt heavy with sleep as I carried her back to her room. As she squirrelled back under her blankets, I kissed her head and she mumbled “Love you, Dad.”

I stood still awhile, unafraid of the dark or the future; as happy as any man can be.

I sleep with one ear open — every night now — hoping she might need me again, just one more time.


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