Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 9
Today we ride along with Seo-jung as she is forced to take a deep look inside her heart while testing the limits of her resolve to be a doctor. What emerges from her contemplations are larger questions about the moral responsibility of being a doctor. Fittingly, this is also the same question Teacher Kim and Dr. Do have been fighting about for fifteen years, and in this episode, they attempt to answer that question once and for all.
CHAPTER 9: “The Limits of Goodness”
We continue from where we left off in the last episode, as Dong-joo smugly appears to tell Teacher Kim that CEO Shin has arrived in anticipation of his surgery. But if Dong-joo is expecting a pat on the back, he is instead met with a deft punch to the gut. Teacher Kim growls at Dong-joo in a low voice and tells him off before he apologizes for calling CEO Shin over to Doldam for nothing, because unfortunately, he isn’t ready to operate yet.
Before CEO Shin can argue, those annoying investigators from Geodae appear to chastise Teacher Kim for treating a patient while their investigation is still pending. Dr. Song attempts to stop them from making fools of themselves, but one is too arrogant to be deterred and continues blabbing on, unaware of who CEO Shin is.
CEO Shin demands an explanation, and Dong-joo happily steps up to tell him that Doldam is currently under investigation by Geodae. Dr. Song tries to shut Dong-joo up, but he won’t. Surprisingly, Teacher Kim also tries to get Dong-joo to desist, but Dong-joo cannot be stopped.
The young surgeon then proceeds to request that CEO Shin file a complaint against Geodae for what he perceives to be an unfair investigation of Doldam. Caught completely off guard, CEO Shin demands someone to call Dr. Do and have him come down personally to explain the situation.
Afterward, Teacher Kim pulls Dong-joo into his office to ask him why he called CEO Shin. Dong-joo’s reasoning seems sound enough: CEO Shin is on Teacher Kim’s side and can force Dr. Do to relinquish his investigation. Baffled, Teacher Kim calls Dong-joo an idiot, explaining that Dong-joo’s move practically ensured that Seo-jung would get kicked out of Doldam.
Dong-joo is stunned by Teacher Kim’s astute insight, and Teacher Kim adds that Dr. Do will stop at nothing to get everything he wants. He then scoffs at Dong-joo’s claim that CEO Shin would be on Teacher Kim’s side. After all, he says, CEO Shin is the one who put Dr. Do in charge and allowed the doctor to rule as he pleased.
Back in Seo-jung’s psychological evaluation, the Geodae psychiatrist asks Seo-jung how she came to meet Teacher Kim. She tells him that Teacher Kim saved her on two occasions: once in the mountains when she passed out, and again by treating her wrist when it lost functionality.
She corrects herself, and states that Teacher Kim actually saved her three times as she rubs her bandaged wrist, but she doesn’t go into detail.
Thankfully, the psychiatrist doesn’t press her, and instead moves on to ask if she has suicidal thoughts. She struggles to answer as Dr. Moon’s accusatory voice resounds through her mind once more, her eyes welling with tears. As a tear falls, she apologizes, and then excuses herself—too overwhelmed to answer the question. When she opens the door, Dong-joo is standing there waiting for her, but she walks past him.
In voiceover, Dong-joo does another one of his narrations:
“In an age in which people ignore others’ pain. People who don’t care about others’ pain as long as they can get what they want. People who don’t care about such things as long as they can maintain authority. And and age in which people can’t even get a good look at the nature of their own pain. Because all of them justify themselves, saying that they didn’t have time to worry for others when they had their own situations to deal with.”
In the ER, the Doldam nurses gossip about the brewing situation with Geodae and place the blame on Seo-jung, who they don’t realize is standing nearby. Nurse Oh shoos them away, then tells Seo-jung not to mind them.
Dr. Do arrives at Doldam, and CEO Shin immediately complains to Dr. Do for making the situation complicated. Dr. Do. pretends to play the loyal doggie, assuring CEO Shin that he was only trying to do everything to make CEO Shin’s surgery successful, but there were “circumstances” at Doldam that he couldn’t overlook.
He cites the incident with the man wielding a sickle, the patient whose family is unable to pay for the expensive procedure upfront, and finally, that Doldam employed a doctor with PTSD as examples. Director Yeo counters each of Dr. Do’s points, but Dr. Do adds that if Seo-jung fully recovered two years ago as Director Yeo claims, then what of the recent drug overdose incident? Dr. Do concludes that Director Yeo and Teacher Kim have been negligent in their duties.
Dr. Do implores CEO Shin to reconsider his decision to entrust Teacher Kim with his operation. However, CEO Shin is firm in his belief and won’t be persuaded, instead suggesting that they simply fire Seo-jung and move on with their lives. Director Yeo protests the edict, while Teacher Kim just laughs.
Teacher Kim explains that CEO Shin hasn’t realized that Dr. Do is using Seo-jung to try and get him fired by claiming that he must take responsibility for allowing her to treat patients while he knew about her condition. Thus, he adds, firing Seo-jung won’t end Dr. Do’s witch-hunt. Dr. Do and Teacher Kim then go back and forth exchanging insults.
Dr. Do brings up the unconscious patient again, elaborating that the hospital suffers from charitable acts such as these, to which Teacher Kim barks at him not to give “a doctor a lecture on economics, it’s only important to save the patient.” Dr. Do shoots back, “You can’t get by nowadays by merely being a skilled doctor. A doctor can only survive if his hospital does.” Teacher Kim ridicules his backwards logic; he amends Dr. Do’s statement and says, “The patient needs to survive for the hospital to survive. Those are the basic principles of being a doctor!”
At that, Dr. Do declares that since Teacher Kim cares so much about principles, they will continue with the investigation and do everything by the book, no matter the results. (Before, Teacher Kim had previously called Dr. Do out for basically rigging the psychological evaluation in his favor.) Once he’s gone, CEO Shin urges Teacher Kim to give in this time and just cut Seo-jung loose.
Outside, Dr. Do tells his investigator flunkies to make sure they succeed in carrying out his mission. However, he’s surprised to see Seo-jung, who then requests a moment of his time.
Right away, Seo-jung apologizes to Dr. Do for being a disappointment and tells him that the entire reason she became a doctor was to receive his acknowledgement. Bitterly, he asks why she betrayed him then, and why she had to be with Teacher Kim, of all people. She explains that Teacher Kim helped her through a difficult patch. As for her PTSD, she claims that she thought she was fully recovered.
This isn’t anything Dr. Do wants to hear, and he shouts at her to tell him what exactly Teacher Kim instructed her to do. She’s a bit surprised by his outburst, but answers firmly that Teacher Kim has done nothing wrong as she takes full responsibility for the situation by offering to resign. Dr. Do doesn’t seem at all happy with her decision and says forlornly that he thought of her as his own daughter, but it seems Seo-jung never considered him as her father.
Dr. Do adds that if she had thought of him as a father, she would have come to him in her time of need instead of Teacher Kim. With nothing left to say, he tells her that he is going to follow the results of the investigation, and from now on, she is dead to him. Around the corner, we see that In-bum has witnessed the exchange.
In the ER, Yeon-hwa finds Dong-joo looking around for Seo-jung. She sheepishly offers to tell Seo-jung that he is looking for her, should she see her. He thanks her, and Yeon-hwa watches on admiringly, unaware that Nurse Assistant Park has noticed her crush.
Seo-jung goes to check on the unconscious patient, whose condition hasn’t really changed. The wife confides that she feels like it’s all in vain, worried about burdening her children with the medical fees. Seo-jung tells the wife not to give up hope, but inside she wonders if she is doing the right thing. In voiceover, she says, “Are we ever making the right decisions in front of our patients as they teeter between life and death? Am I someone who is fully prepared to take responsibility for someone’s life?”
A little later, she seeks out Dr. Nam and entrusts him with an envelope for Teacher Kim: it’s her letter of resignation. After he receives it, Teacher Kim instructs Dong-joo to bring Seo-jung back by the end of the day, otherwise he’ll accept her letter and intention to resign. Dong-joo immediately rushes out, and fortuitously, his new car is finally ready for him.
At a bus stop, In-bum finds Seo-jung sitting alone and takes her to the bus terminal before asking where she intends to go. She confesses that she has no idea, and In-bum’s prickly exterior softens a little when she reveals that she actually has nowhere to go. He then offers to drive her all the way to Seoul because he’s taken the day off.
Dong-joo follows Seo-jung’s trail and ends up at the same bus terminal, but is forced to call around for more leads on where she might have gone. He ends up grudgingly calling In-bum for some insight, who then tells Dong-joo right away that Seo-jung is with him in the car.
With Teacher Kim’s deadline in mind, Dong-joo begs Seo-jung to come back and reconsider her decision, but she is adamant as she hangs up the phone without answering. In the car, she grumbles to In-bum for outing her to Dong-joo, but he just replies dryly that she never told him not to.
Dong-joo reports back to Dr. Nam to tell him that he’s following Seo-jung to Seoul. Dr. Nam questions whether he can make it back in the allotted timeframe, and Dong-joo replies that he’s going to try anyway. Unfortunately, with the two young general surgeons on Seo-jung duty and Teacher Kim put on indefinite hiatus, Dr. Song is the only one left to manage the Friday night ER load.
In the ER, In-soo attends to a patient with stomach pains, vomiting, and a sore neck. In-soo orders medicine to alleviate her symptoms, then leaves to attend to others. Yeon-hwa comes over to help clean up the vomit and notices something strange about the woman’s neck, but she keeps her suspicions to herself.
Instead, she sneaks off to the doctors’ shared office to look up a condition called “Boerhaave syndrome” in order to confirm her hunch. Dr. Nam catches her scanning the book, and when asked what she’s doing, she quickly shuts the book and hurries out the door.
Meanwhile, Teacher Kim and Director Yeo leisurely play baduk in the director’s office. Director Yeo reminds Teacher Kim what day it is, but Teacher Kim decides to leave everything in Geodae’s hands. Director Yeo then ruminates over whether Teacher Kim thinks Seo-jung will come back to Doldam, which causes Teacher Kim to recall the face of the Geodae psychiatrist he had seen in passing. He then answers vaguely, “Well, the groundwork has been laid already, but—…”
In Seoul, Seo-jung and In-bum sit down for some pizza. She teases him for using a knife and fork to eat, accusing him of being a “Mama’s boy” who has never disobeyed his parents, and he shoots back that she talks too much.
She takes issue with his description, and claims to normally be on the quieter side. The only reason she is talking so much is because she didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable. He sees through her, and asks if her incessant talking is actually an attempt to quell the anxiety she feels over her decision to resign.
For a second, she tries to play it off, but then she tosses down her pizza and admits that she feels guilt for leaving without even saying goodbye to the people who’ve been like family to her these past years. This thought opens the floodgates, and she begins bemoaning her entire decision to leave, insisting that she should have begged and pleaded to stay.
She then realizes dolefully that she really doesn’t have anywhere else to go but Doldam. In-bum watches her thoughtfully as she spirals, then asks why she left if she had nowhere else to go—it wasn’t as if anyone gave her the boot. He adds that her patient, the unconscious one, is still under her watch.
Meanwhile, Dong-joo arrives in Seoul and calls In-bum for his location. In-bum hesitates for a moment, but then eventually answers. Dong-joo demands he put Seo-jung on the phone, but In-bum informs him that she’s already gone.
As it turns out, Seo-jung’s destination is actually Geodae Hospital, where she hunts down the psychiatrist who did her evaluation. He tries to tell her that it’s too late, since he’s already submitted his report to Dr. Do. But she argues that she wants to answer his question properly, and says that she has never thought that she wanted to die.
Seo-jung explains that she did not want to die even when her mother died, or even after Dr. Moon’s accident. But as a result, that unfailing desire also made her miserable. She explains, “Because my desire to live was stronger than the guilt I felt for being the only one that survived. Because despite all of that, I wanted to live. And I felt so bad for feeling that way.”
Moved, the psychiatrist asks Seo-jung the reason why she became a doctor. She answers a familiar answer we’ve heard before—that she wanted to be acknowledged by someone. The psychiatrist follows up and asks if she’s ever wanted to stop being a doctor, and she replies, “Many times. Every single time I had to make a decision for the sake of the patient.”
He then takes out an envelope with his report, and asks her to deliver it to Teacher Kim on his behalf. Once he leaves, she takes out the sheet inside and is surprised to see that he deemed her mentally fit to serve as a doctor.
We follow the psychiatrist out of Geodae as he talks on the phone with Teacher Kim, who was clearly in on his plan all along. He tells Teacher Kim that thankfully, Seo-jung ultimately did answer correctly, but he almost acted unethically as a result. Teacher Kim then asks the psychiatrist how his child is doing, thereby explaining their connection.
The psychiatrist is surprised that Teacher Kim remembers the name of his child, and tells him that he thinks he understands why Teacher Kim is so fond of Doldam. We then flash back to see that Dong-joo had begged the psychiatrist to evaluate Seo-jung impartially, followed by Nurse Oh, who had also spoken on Seo-jung’s behalf before threatening to file a complaint if the psychiatrist were to conduct his evaluation unfairly. Nurse Assistant Park added himself to the list by giving the psychiatrist the many letters of thanks Seo-jung’s patients sent her. This little cutie.
Seo-jung breaks down in tears after reading her final evaluation. Later, as she leaves Geodae, she finds Dong-joo outside waiting for her. Steadily, they walk toward each other, an ocean of unspoken words drifting between them. After finally seeing her, Dong-joo relaxes, and their initial exchange is brief; Dong-joo merely asks if she’s finished with her business. She confirms it, so he says it’s time for them to go back.
Perhaps touched that he came all the way to get her and accepted her back without question, her eyes begin to tear up as she stares at him. He notices when she doesn’t follow and turns back to check on her, asking if she’s crying. She denies it and wipes away her falling tears. He lets her maintain her fiction with a smile.
She then notices snow falling and wonders if it is the first snow of the season. Then, without looking at her, Dong-joo wordlessly takes her hand in his. Her eyes widen, but she allows it, even as he explains that he’ll only hold it until her hands are warmed up. He makes sure she’s okay with it before putting their joined hands inside his pocket. They stay like that for a moment, watching the snow slowly drift down, but then it dawns on Seo-jung that it’s Friday.
In the ER, Dr. Song and Nurse Oh have their hands full with a suicidal patient who jumped off a bridge but survived. The suicidal patient lashes out at the staff for treating him when he wants to die before grabbing Dr. Song’s necktie (one Nurse Oh previously advised he remove before duty) as he begins to strangle the surgeon. Nurse Oh calls over Mr. Go, who helps to restrain the patient.
Dr. Song passes off the patient to In-soo, then leaves. Deputy Nurse Ji comes up to report to Dr. Song that Teacher Kim is sitting in the ICU, but he tells her he’s too busy to care about things like that right now.
Yeon-hwa checks on the patient with stomach pains, who begins tossing fitfully as she complains of severe pain. Yeon-hwa presses against the patient’s throat with her fingers rather expertly, and assesses that there is a large amount of gas trapped under the skin. The situation escalates as the woman suddenly complains of not being able to breathe. Yeon-hwa shouts out for In-soo, but he is too busy being attacked by the suicidal patient to notice.
Left with no other alternative, Yeon-hwa grabs a few items and intubates the woman skillfully. It seems as if she’s managed to prevent the worst, but when Yeon-hwa looks up, she sees Nurse Oh standing there, having witnessed the entire thing. Nurse Oh sends Nurse Assistant Park to retrieve Teacher Kim, but the young man hesitates before leaving and looks on, confused by Yeon-hwa’s actions.
At the front desk, Ki-tae and another staff member watch the weather report over bowls of jjajangmyun. Ki-tae prophetically explains that snow days are the worst for the hospital because the road freezes over and leads to accidents. On cue, a pair of roadside cleanup workers clear away some litter on a slippery road as a pair of drunken young men speed down the same road recklessly. Off-screen, we hear the sound of a crash.
Nurse Assistant Park finds Teacher Kim looking over the unconscious patient and calls him over. As Teacher Kim leaves, we zoom in to see the patient’s eyes moving from under their eyelids.
Teacher Kim checks over the patient with the stomach pains, and comes to the same conclusion as Yeon-hwa regarding the gas under the skin. He starts preparing for an emergency surgery, then walks over to the suicidal patient still kicking up a fuss (and trying to kill himself again), shouting at him to shut the hell up because he’s being disruptive.
The patient recognizes Teacher Kim and immediately gets on his knees to properly greet the doctor, ha. Teacher Kim snaps at him to get his treatment and leave. Suddenly the patient’s attitude changes completely, and he starts pointing out places where he’s injured to In-soo. Gobsmacked, In-soo asks what that was all about, and a nearby nurse explains that the patient is a regular at Doldam. So funny.
Meanwhile, Dong-joo and Seo-jung drive down a dark road, and Dong-joo offers his best Teacher Kim impersonation after Seo-jung wonders what Teacher Kim’s reaction will be to her return. She joins him, and they laugh at her terrible rendition. He then tells her meaningfully not to disappear without a word ever again. She thinks he’s messing with her even though she’s affected by the request, but he repeats it. They’re so caught up in their flirting that they don’t notice a large truck up ahead, forcing Dong-joo to stomp on the breaks.
Yeon-hwa sits alone in the back room awaiting her punishment and jumps to her feet when Teacher Kim, Nurse Oh, and Nurse Assistant Park appear. They sit down to hear her story, but are almost immediately interrupted by a nurse who tells them that Dr. Song is MIA. Apparently, he’s gone back to Seoul.
Now the last surgeon standing, Teacher Kim elects to do the operation on the patient with stomach pain himself, but then the investigators conveniently appear out of nowhere to try to stop him. The investigators refuse to reverse their ban despite there being no other surgeon around, but Teacher Kim refuses to accept that. Things get heated, and right as it seems as if Teacher Kim will need to physically push the man out of his way, shockingly, Nurse Assistant Park steps up to sock the investigator in the face with a determined look in his eyes.
Thankfully, Seo-jung does not get into another automobile accident, and Dong-joo stops in time to avoid injury. They squeeze past the truck to see what is causing the blockade, horrified to see the wreckage of a multiple vehicle collision.
This is the first episode where I really felt like these characters were growing in profound and unchangeable ways, while still maintaining the spirit of who they are as people. I was excited to see Teacher Kim correct Dong-joo for his misstep in calling CEO Shin down to Doldam only to then entrust him with the responsibility of bringing Seo-jung back. It’s a marked improvement to their usual dynamic, where Teacher Kim chastises Dong-joo before basically telling him to screw off if he doesn’t like it. I am thrilled to see a genuine rapport developing between them.
In-bum, too, was given his chance to rectify his previous (unfounded) grievances toward Seo-jung, and to be there for her in her time of need. It was gratifying to see him act totally indifferent about her ordeal while nudging her back to Doldam the entire time, which showed that he actually cared quite deeply about what becomes of her. I don’t think he really knows how to let his guard down in front of anyone given his relationship with his father, but I like that he always comes around and makes the right decision anyway. I think watching the way his father cut Seo-jung off was important for him to put away the misconceived notions he previously held about her.
Speaking of Dr. Do, I was caught off guard to find myself feeling sympathy toward him during his talk with Seo-jung. It added a depth of character that I really needed from him, since I had only seen (or potentially projected) glimpses of it before. I genuinely felt for him when he discussed his feelings of betrayal, and his pain that she had never considered seeking him out when she needed help. Obviously, we as viewers can understand her perspective: She was so afraid of disappointing Dr. Do that she didn’t want him to see her struggling with her crippling emotions and injured hand, but as things played out, he was hurt that she couldn’t trust him. I just love the idea that he lashed out aggressively to get Seo-jung fired, because while he wants Teacher Kim gone, it’s also the way he decided to cope with his pain over her betrayal.
In the last episode Dr. Do described their relationship as that between dog and owner, but I would like to believe that was him putting up an act to seem tough, when his truest feelings left him feeling too vulnerable. Therefore, only after he decided to cut her off completely could he admit those feelings to her. It doesn’t really explain why he hadn’t tried to reach out to her in five years, but whatever, I’ll overlook it. That said, I would be remiss not to mention how pleasurable it is to watch two veteran actors verbally duke it out and play their characters with a very lived-in feeling, as we saw during Dr. Do and Teacher Kim’s showdown. It elevates the standard of their differing ideologies, because left in less capable hands, Teacher Kim’s views could come off as naïve, and Dr. Do’s could be seen as a bit too out of touch. But at the end of their conversation, I left with a very clear and heightened sense of how each perceived their given realities.
Regarding our main love line, I almost did a happy dance after seeing how their relationship is playing out. I love that Dong-joo, who talks too much and constantly puts his foot in his mouth, finally reached across the line toward Seo-jung in a wordless moment after watching her and her boundaries very closely over the course of these episodes. Their attraction is palpable, but now their relationship is based on so much more than it was before, and their progression was handled so naturally and with so much care that it’s proving to be very satisfying.
It was beautiful for me to see their reunion juxtapose their interaction in the first episode where he was too blunt and wasn’t in sync with her emotionally, even if she felt herself stirred by him. Now, they finally found their way to the same moment, and in this episode, it was all about what he didn’t say and what didn’t need to be said that truly brought them together.
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 8
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 7
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 6
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 5
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 4
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 3
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 2
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim: Episode 1