Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 5
Our resident hothead doctor starts singing a different tune once he learns of Teacher Kim’s true identity, and goes from being arrogantly sure of himself to being in damage control mode. Unfortunately, he’s quickly reminded that Teacher Kim isn’t the type to welcome anyone with open arms, nor is he the type to give pats on the back for a job well done, so no amount of brown-nosing is going to get him any closer to his new idol.
CHAPTER 5: “Relative Principles”
After his confrontation with Teacher Kim, Dong-joo presses Ki-tae to confirm his suspicions that Teacher Kim is the legendary surgeon Bu Yong-joo. For our benefit, Dong-joo details what makes Bu Yong-joo so impressive: his ninety-seven percent operation success rate, the fact that he’s the only triple board certified doctor in the country, and that he’s otherwise known as the “Hand of God.” However, Dong-joo adds, at the height of his popularity, he mysteriously vanished without a trace.
Ki-tae continually feigns ignorance until Dong-joo dangles the possibility of remaining on staff at Doldam, if—and only if—Teacher Kim is who Dong-joo thinks he is. Ambition flares in Ki-tae’s eyes, and he rips up Dong-joo’s resignation in confirmation, reaffirming that he didn’t say anything. Pleased, Dong-joo smiles, and the men shake hands.
At Geodae Hospital, Dr. Do hurriedly walks through the halls as Dr. Song jogs up beside him to ask how his meeting with CEO Shin went. Dr. Do doesn’t mince words, and tells Dr. Song that Bu Yong-joo is at Doldam Hospital.
We flash back to an operating room, where Dr. Song desperately tries to resuscitate a patient that is rapidly bleeding to death from a bungled surgery. Teacher Kim enters the OR just as the the surgical staff calls on Dr. Song to declare the time of death. He knocks Dr. Song out of the way and tearfully looks over at the unconscious patient. He then looks up at the gallery and locks eyes with Dr. Do, who is staring back at him.
As the scene plays, Dong-joo narrates:
“In an era where one’s success trumps everything else, an era in which everything including one’s morals and others’ lives are pushed aside for selfish gains. People who offered excuses and justified his or her actions by saying that “it couldn’t be helped” while sacrificing others, and who used their own lack of power as an excuse to turn a blind eye to the truth. Such cowards banded together and dominate the world out of a sense of entitlement.”
We cut back to the present, where Dr. Song cautions Dr. Do that Teacher Kim must not operate on CEO Shin, or it could negatively affect his upcoming re-election. With a hardened gaze, Dr. Do instructs Dr. Song to provide Dong-joo an opportunity to return to Geodae, and Dr. Song smiles knowingly.
On a dreary autumn morning, a group of cyclists glide down a relatively empty road in the countryside. The man in the rear blows his whistle to alert the others of oncoming traffic, then the pack moves closer to the edge, making room for cars to pass. On this particular morning, an exhausted truck driver drives up behind the cyclists, but instead of rounding around the group, the driver’s eyes droop closed, resulting in him stomping on the accelerator and smashing through the line of riders. All are hit except the man in the rear, who had gotten away in time to watch the calamity unfold in horror.
At Doldam, the nurses express their disbelief at Seo-jung’s demotion, and when asked if she really intends to serve her sentence, Seo-jung confirms it. The nurses claim that Teacher Kim is always kind to them and wonder why he is so harsh toward Seo-jung. At first, Seo-jung puts on a brave face and acts like being an orderly is no big deal, but the facade fades quickly, and soon she’s begging Nurse Oh for assurance that she’ll survive the ordeal.
She doesn’t have long to despair, because Ki-tae soon walks in with Dong-joo in tow, and reintroduces the surgeon as the newest member of their staff. No one looks thrilled by the announcement, specifically Seo-jung, who quickly excuses herself.
Dong-joo follows after her once he hears the news of her reassignment. She pretends to be taking it all in stride again, but when Dong-joo asks if he can start ordering her around, she casts him a warning glare. She then takes the opportunity to inquire as to why he decided to stay at Doldam after all — she thinks he’s doing it to deliberately annoy her, but he acknowledges that he wants to learn from Teacher Kim.
Seo-jung finds his sudden about-face hilarious, and proceeds to remind him of his recent embarrassing behavior toward the chief surgeon. But Dong-joo isn’t particularly bothered by her needling, and says that that was before he learned Teacher Kim’s true identity.
Seo-jung is shocked to hear that Dong-joo’s figured out the Doldam secret, and he grumbles at her for hiding the truth from him all this time. She tries to dissuade him from his endeavor by citing Teacher Kim’s temper and terrible personality as impediments.
However, Dong-joo’s made up his mind and reveals his second reason for wanting to stay at Doldam: Earlier, as he was leaving, Seo-jung admitted that she did miss him, and if he were to leave now, then he would never get to find out why. D’awww.
She unconvincingly informs him that romance isn’t allowed at the hospital, but he straightforwardly asks for some romance anyway. They stare deeply into each other eyes for a long moment, but then suddenly Dr. Moon’s phantom voice echoes through Seo-jung’s mind accusing her for causing his death, and she recoils, clutching her ear.
Dong-joo asks what’s wrong, but she flinches from his touch and becomes trapped in her hallucination. Thankfully, the phone in the ER rings and snaps her out of her spell—the injured cyclists are on their way.
Given the brutal and grisly nature of the accident, it’s become big news across the internet, and reporters have flocked to the hospital eagerly awaiting to hear updates. Seo-jung briefs Teacher Kim on the patient count: seven have arrived at the hospital, but one died en route, two have minor injuries, and four more are on their way.
One of the cyclist patients needs immediate surgery, and Dong-joo formally requests to assist Teacher Kim in the operation. He informs Teacher Kim of his decision to stay at Doldam, but Teacher Kim isn’t interested in Dong-joo’s change of heart and says nothing of it. He calls Dr. Nam to also help with the surgery, then instructs Seo-jung to call for an alternate at another hospital.
Dong-joo stands aside meekly and obediently follows Teacher’s Kim’s every instruction. When Teacher Kim moves onto the next patient, Dong-joo observes the living legend’s every medical movement with new eyes, utterly awestruck.
The staff can’t work fast enough against the rising odds as patients continue to flood the ER—especially Teacher Kim, who struggles to give up on one patient that ends up dying. He collects himself with a deep breath before moving on to the next patient, who complains of pelvic pain.
Around that time, the drowsy driver wakes up in the ER as the tragedy he created unfolds around him. The man in the rear, and the only witness to the accident, spots him from across the room. He calls him a murderer and curses him for daring to receive treatment when he is responsible for all the damage.
As Teacher Kim tends to as many other patients as he can, he can’t help glancing over to the driver. Intuiting that something is wrong, he goes to check on him and concludes that he has cardiac tamponade, a condition that is characterized by the excess buildup of fluid around the heart.
Seo-jung points out that cardiac tamponade is rarely caused by blunt injuries such as the driver’s, which causes Teacher Kim to pause. He tells her that just because something is rare, it should never be overlooked. Ashamed, Seo-jung apologies for her oversight, but Teacher Kim callously tells her that she is only an orderly who isn’t expected to make diagnoses.
As Dong-joo prepares for surgery, Dr. Song calls him and asks to meet up. However, since Doldam is so short-staffed, Dong-joo explains that he anticipates being very busy for the foreseeable future. With an arrogant grin, he then thanks Dr. Song for introducing him to a really famous mentor and promises to learn as much as he can before returning to Geodae. Huh, so I guess Dong-joo still wants to go back to Geodae. Why though?
Dong-joo enters the prep room and thinks he’s going to help Teacher Kim with his surgery on the critically injured cyclist. But he’s surprised to learn that he will actually be helming the procedure while Teacher Kim operates on the driver. They commence simultaneous operations.
Meanwhile, Ki-tae is informed by the police that all the cyclists involved in the accident are cancer survivors. Namely, the patient Dong-joo is operating on has a history of liver cancer.
On Teacher Kim’s side, things seem to be going smoothly when Ki-tae comes in to inform him of his newly acquired information. Initially, Teacher Kim thinks nothing of Ki-tae’s revelation, until he mentions that the congressman Dong-joo operated on (who subsequently died) also had liver cancer.
Ki-tae’s concerns are timely, as the situation in the other OR begins to rapidly unravel. Dong-joo recognizes the similarities as the cyclist’s cancer begins to relapse. The memory of the congressman’s death paralyzes Dong-joo from continuing with the procedure, but then, Ki-tae enters with Teacher Kim on the phone.
The chief surgeon tries to talk Dong-joo through his fear by giving him two options: He can quit now, but if he does, then he’ll be haunted by the experience for the rest of his life. Or, he can buck up. Dong-joo quickly tries to resign from the procedure, lacking the confidence to save the patient.
But before he does, Teacher Kim imparts a few words of wisdom—when a patient dies on an operating table, it isn’t the grief that haunts surgeons long after, it’s the guilt of feeling like they didn’t fight until the end trying to save the patient. “Regret drives a person crazier than failure,” he adds.
Near tears, Dong-joo repeats that even so, he doesn’t think he can save the patient, and everyone in the room looks defeated. Vexed but resigned, Teacher Kim tells Dong-joo to do what he wants and sew up the patient if he isn’t going to try. Nurse Oh and Dr. Nam, who are with Dong-joo in the OR, are far more sympathetic as they try to coax Dong-joo back into the ring.
Nurse Oh tells Dong-joo that she has helped Teacher Kim with numerous procedures far more complicated than this one. And though there were times that they failed, there were more occasions where they prevailed because they persevered until the bitter end. Dr. Nam adds that the cyclist patient is currently fighting for his life, so they should fight on too.
Their words reach Dong-joo, and he returns to the table with fresh resolve. Ki-tae hurries over to tell Teacher Kim that Dong-joo triumphed over his fear, but the surgeon talks over him and hands the finishing touches over to Seo-jung before leaving.
Teacher Kim reappears in the neighboring OR and offers to take over, but Dong-joo refuses. He manages well at first, but he clearly still has a lot to learn, and Teacher Kim calmly coaches him through a misstep, which Dong-joo receives gratefully. Finally, Dong-joo is able to break past the debilitating effects of his fatal failure, and the operation concludes successfully.
Post-surgery, Dong-joo sits alone, deep in thought. When Teacher Kim walks by, Dong-joo asks if Teacher Kim would have really let him give up back then. Teacher Kim confirms it, stating simply that it wouldn’t be his fault if the patient died. Baffled and confused, Dong-joo asks why he wanted him to stay at Doldam, and if not, then why did Teacher Kim tell him, “If you don’t change, nothing else will” after Dong-joo decided to leave? Was it that he knew that Dong-joo would recognize him immediately, and would want to stay at Doldam? Gah, these two are so dysfunctional.
Teacher Kim makes the connection, and asks if that is the reason why Dong-joo has been acting so oddly all day. He adds that if Dong-joo thought he would praise him for his surgical victory, he’s sorely mistaken. Instead, he rightfully rebukes Dong-joo for not checking the patient’s medical history and for failing to perform a CT scan before operating.
Dong-joo accepts the blame for not reviewing the patient’s medical history beforehand, but argues back that it was an emergency situation, and he was afraid of cardiac arrest occurring. Teacher Kim asks why Dong-joo isn’t conducting his due diligence like he usually does. He then accuses Dong-joo of trying to emulate his free-wheeling medical methods in order to ingratiate himself with him.
Dong-joo thinks Teacher Kim is being overly severe over an error done in a panicked state when he was merely trying to be flexible, but Teacher Kim hisses that his one error almost cost someone their life. He adds:
“Whether you leave or stay is your business, so do whatever you want. But if you’re expecting something of me, wake up. All I have to offer someone who changes his principles based on the situation is contempt, scorn, and a whole lot of insults.”
A little while later, Seo-jung joins a dazed Dong-joo for a symbolic can of coffee and some wise words. She tells Dong-joo that she warned him of Teacher Kim’s ways, but even so, she can’t help but envy Dong-joo for receiving the opportunity to operate alongside Teacher Kim when she’s dreamed of doing so for the past five years.
Dong-joo doesn’t see it that way, and says that Teacher Kim intervened on his surgery and pointed out all his flaws and mistakes. That she envies too, she says, since she’d rather Teacher Kim criticize her than be totally uninterested in what she’s doing, like he is now.
Dong-joo is less understanding, and thinks that Teacher Kim has some serious personality issues and enjoys pissing people off. Seo-jung disagrees, believing Teacher Kim to have deep wounds that cause him to act the way he does. And the fact that he threw away everything he had to hide away in Doldam means that he’s struggling with something in his heart, just as they are. With that thought, they sit quietly together and let the furor of the day settle in.
We then flash back to complete the memory of the surgery Dr. Song botched, and the same one that Teacher Kim barged in on from earlier. Outside in the hall, Teacher Kim pummels Dr. Song and demands to know who authorized him to operate on his patient. Dr. Do arrives to correct Teacher Kim—Teacher Kim was the one who killed the patient, not Dr. Song. Dr. Do explains that Teacher Kim barged into the operating room, kicked up a fuss, and caused the table death. At least, that is what the official records will say, and that’s the story the surgical staff will corroborate as well.
Teacher Kim looks around wildly to each person from the operation, but they all avert their gaze, confirming their complicity in Dr. Do’s fabricated narrative. Dr. Do suggests Teacher Kim get on his knees and beg for a second chance, since he might be inclined to forgive him. Dr. Do alludes to the fact that this serves as a punishment for Teacher Kim’s arrogance.
But of course, the Teacher Kim we know would never kneel to a such manipulation, and so he tells Dr. Do that he should kneel before the mother of the patient that they let die just so that Dr. Do could play his power games. His eyes water as he evokes the patient’s name and mourns for all the days and dreams stolen from her. As Teacher Kim walks away, Dr. Do rages and vows to blacklist Teacher Kim so that he can never work at another hospital again.
In the present, Dr. Song, In-bum, and Dong-joo’s sunbae (whose name is IN-SOO), arrive at Doldam to get a drink with Dong-joo (and court him over to the dark side). In-bum, who is interested in meeting with the infamous Seo-jung (aka “Crazy Whale”) heads in first, but as he approaches the door, Teacher Kim comes out and carelessly smacks the door into In-bum’s hand. In-bum cradles it preciously, but confirms to Teacher Kim that he wasn’t hurt.
Taking note of the way In-bum handles his hand, Teacher Kim asks if he is a pianist. In-bum corrects that he’s a surgeon, and Teacher Kim scowls at his response. In-bum demands an apology, but Teacher Kim retorts that he said he was okay. So In-bum complains that he was almost hurt, to which Teacher Kim barks back that he should be more careful then. Ha.
As Teacher Kim walks by their car, Dr. Song hides in the backseat and reports back to Dr. Do confirming that Teacher Kim is indeed at Doldam. As he slinks up in his seat thinking the coast is clear, he’s alarmed to see Teacher Kim staring into the car window and right at him. HAHA. Their faces.
Their reunion is surprisingly civil, considering what we know know about their relationship. Teacher Kim impatiently asks Dr. Song why he came to Doldam, and Dr. Song pretends to be just as surprised to run into Teacher Kim. He claims to be innocently visiting Dong-joo, whose talent he admires and hopes to cultivate. Seeing through him, Teacher Kim asks why he sent his favored pupil to a crappy place like Doldam if he likes him so much. Perhaps sincerely, Dr. Song cites Dr. Do’s penchant for allowing others to take the blame for his failings.
The admission prompts Teacher Kim to ask if Dr. Song is still living as Dr. Do’s dog, and Dr. Song argues that he’s now the chief of the surgical department. Teacher Kim pointedly asks why was he hiding in the back of a car if he’s such an important person—was it out of fear of seeing him again? He demands again to know the real reason Dr. Song appeared at Doldam.
It seems to be the same question In-soo Sunbae is pondering with Dong-joo, who asks the same thing. Adorably, Ki-tae lurks nearby and eavesdrops, afraid he might lose his big catch to Geodae. In-soo Sunbae tries to convince Dong-joo to come out for drinks, but duty calls, and Dong-joo runs off to attend to a patient in the ER, looking at ease with his new life.
In the ER, the staff receives an unconscious patient. Dong-joo orders a CT scan, but Nurse Oh intervenes and instead brings over some food. Nurse Oh explains that sometimes homeless people arrive at the ER. Immediately, upon smelling the food, the patient opens her eyes and begins chowing down. Understanding, Dong-joo nods and tells the patient to take her time eating. When he walks away, she peeks over at him shyly.
Meanwhile, In-bum sneaks ahead in to search for Seo-jung, and eventually finds her jamming out alone while folding sheets. He stands there observing her for a while, and weirdly his fingers curl as he watches. What the…?
When she finally spots him, she screams in surprise. He lies that he is lost when she asks why he’s there. She points him back on his way, but he lingers instead, asking if she knows someone called “Crazy Whale.” Seo-jung identifies herself as the person in question, but then asks who he is. In-bum doesn’t answer right away, which is when Dong-joo appears in the doorway. He introduces In-bum as Dr. Do’s son, much to Seo-jung’s bewilderment.
We switch back to Teacher Kim and Dr. Song, who fesses up to his real reason for coming down to Doldam: CEO Shin’s surgery. He advises Teacher Kim to give up on the surgery so that he won’t get hurt again by Dr. Do’s ambition. However, Teacher Kim merely laughs as he wonders aloud at what kind of twisted fate he has.
But then his expression turns hard, and he glares back at Dr. Song.
For some reason, I don’t think the big emotional arc of this episode packed as strong of a punch as it could have. All the elements were there, but it fell a little flat to me. I wanted to care more about Dong-joo’s internal turmoil in that operating room. I wanted to feel the sharpness of his pain and fear. I wanted the impact of the moment when he chose to abandon his patient to hit me right in the heart. But it fell a bit short, somehow. I wish we saw beforehand how Dong-joo was still struggling with the trauma of his first table death, and how he was grieving in his own way. Because I never felt like Dong-joo particularly cared that the congressman died—instead, I felt as frustrated with Dong-joo as Teacher Kim did when he hung up the phone.
It may very well be that Dong-joo convinced himself that he wasn’t to blame for the death since the odds were stacked so high against him, but then I wish they showed Dong-joo becoming surprised by his own unresolved feelings over the matter. Ultimately, I think this is what’s happening right now: Since these characters are constantly having to defend themselves against attacks and criticism from each other, there are less moments that allow them to be vulnerable or show their fears and to let us, the audience, in. I really want to be let in. But right now, everyone is a little too hotheaded and too closed off. And that’s okay—I can wait for those emotional payoffs.
On another note, I thought that Teacher Kim’s speech about Dong-joo needing to be the best doctor he can be was very informative in explaining why Teacher Kim treats Seo-jung and Dong-joo the way that he does. I think that despite his moniker, he is a really reluctant teacher. He probably doesn’t want anyone to follow in his footsteps and become like him. But somehow, he’s ended up with two troubled students, and he doesn’t really know what do with either of them. Instead, I think he wants them to become good doctors that he can respect. He wants people that he can also clash with from time to time but trust completely, so that they can create an environment predicated on the fundamental beliefs of doing the right thing and always putting the patient’s life first. Kind of like his relationship with Nurse Oh. At the end of it all, Teacher Kim wants equals and not underlings like Dr. Do does.
To be fair, Teacher Kim didn’t seem to have any intention of criticizing Dong-joo for his behavior in the OR until Dong-joo began begging for some kind of recognition. So one could say that Dong-joo brought it all upon himself.
Anyway, that moment when Teacher Kim was staring at Dr. Song in the window was perhaps my favorite thing ever. It was so funny, weird, and totally unexpected. I was shocked to see the way Teacher Kim interacted with Dr. Song—I was anticipating more collar-grabbing and punching, but what unfolded instead was much more interesting. I loved that Teacher Kim holds some empathy for Dr. Song having to live perpetually in Dr. Do’s dark shadow, and reserves all his scorn for Dr. Do. I think Teacher Kim knows Dr. Song is a result of his circumstance and that he isn’t the mastermind. And that’s very interesting to me, because clearly Teacher Kim bashes on Dong-joo for those very same reasons, but treats the two very differently.
What that tells me is that Teacher Kim sees Dong-joo as someone that can be changed and put back on the right path, as well as someone who also needs to build up the confidence to be great. Just like Seo-jung said, Teacher Kim expresses his interest and concern in someone by criticizing and shouting. And maybe it’s only then that we can get to the heart of it all.
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 4
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 3
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 2
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 1
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