Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim 3: Episodes 9-10
Disaster comes to Doldam in the form of a school collapse! Our doctors are on the scene, ready to save as many lives as they can. They must keep in mind the first rule of crisis response: prioritize the safety of the medical team. Wait, did I say rule? For our hero, maybe it’s more like a guideline…
It all begins harmlessly enough. Our OTP are making their way downtown for dinner with Dad: Woo-jin, looking cool as a very smitten cucumber; Eun-jae’s nervousness manifesting in fits and starts of road rage. But there’s a hitch. Dr. Cha won’t be in attendance; despite Teacher Kim’s fervent disapproval, he’s gone to confront Assemblywoman Ko in court. Today, the role of Disapproving Parent will be played by Lee Ji-ha — Eun-jae’s estranged mother. Not, the venerable materfamilias declares, that she’s here willingly. Great! decides Eun-jae, starting towards the door. That makes two of them. But Woo-jin rises to the occasion, heroically recommending the house salad. Seconds later, his phone gives an ominous chime. Both doctors gasp. Soon, Eun-jae’s mother is abandoned, staring at a table of steak in genteel dismay.
Our heroes arrive at a horrific scene. A school has collapsed, leaving students trapped under mounds of metal and concrete. Woo-jin and Eun-jae are frozen in horror. All is screaming, blood, and smoke; it’s a catastrophe unlike anything they’ve ever seen. Still, training kicks in, and they remember the rules of disaster response. Keep calm. Prioritize your own safety. Triage the wounded, dealing with critical cases first. And under no circumstances give CPR.
As Dong-hwa, Eun-tak, and Manager Jang come sprinting onto the scene, Eun-jae tends to her patients with unshakable stoicism. Even in the face of desperation and grief, she refuses CPR, focusing on the living. Unblinking, she plunges a foot-long needle into a pneumothorax patient’s chest, clearing his breathing in seconds. Then, she turns to take a hemoperitoneum patient from Dong-hwa. She’ll ride with him in the ambulance; her place is at the Trauma Center. With a single, helpless glance back at Woo-jin, she turns to leave.
Woo-jin is faring worse: as he coaxes a young woman to breathe, she splutters up blood. He and Eun-tak feel her pulse flutter into nothing. They exchange bitter glances. Eun-tak wipes the blood from her face, as Woo-jin attaches the DNR tag. It’s at this moment, cursing their own powerlessness, that they receive a report: five survivors are trapped beneath the wreckage. One — the teacher who started the evacuation — is pinned beneath debris, with severe internal damage. Delay could mean death. Woo-jin makes the call, stubbornly jettisoning every rule of crisis response: he’s going down to help them. Eun-tak nods. They’ll go together.
Dong-hwa, shaky with panic, dials Teacher Kim — who, soon, is on the phone with Woo-jin. He and Eun-tak have already dropped into the darkness of the wreck. There’s someone injured, Dong-hwa had explained. So what? Teacher Kim had snapped, knowing the rules. But now, he’s in surgeon-mode, smoothly talking Woo-jin through using a REBOA balloon kit to stem the bleeding. All this time, Eun-jae listens, wracked with fear. Still, when she’s called in for a combo surgery with Director Park, she forces herself back under control.
There’s another complication at the Trauma Center. According to the news, Assemblywoman Ko was caught in the collapse, after meeting with protesters against redevelopment. Now, she too is buried beneath the debris. Suddenly, the site is teeming with officials demanding that the med staff abandon this pesky business of saving injured children, and focus on the things that really matter! The crisis team are unimpressed; they won’t let anyone jump the rescue queue.
Below ground, our heroes usher the students out to safety, after administering first aid to their dying teacher. There’s one girl who refuses to budge. When her teacher begged her to evacuate, she’d responded with classic teenage scorn. When everything came crashing down, he pushed her to safety. Now, she sits by his side. It takes a fervent speech from Woo-jin to persuade her that the best thing she can do for him is survive.
Just as she’s hoisted to the surface, the remaining walls begins to shudder. Woo-jin just manages to dive on top of his patient before concrete comes hurtling down. At Doldam, the news blares across the TV: two patients and two med staff have been trapped in the wake of the second collapse. Ah-reum goes running from the ER, choking back tears. Teacher Kim hears the news from a nurse. His phone drops from his hands. In the OR, Nurse Oh spots his expression. Director Park makes worried eye contact with Dr. Nam. Eun-jae concentrates on her suturing, mercifully oblivious.
Trapped under tons of industrial rubble, Eun-tak coughs up dust and surveys the disaster. Woo-jin and the teacher have vanished in the chaos, but soon, he finds them both. The teacher, still pinned beneath the rock. And Woo-jin, trapped above him, his wrist pierced by a rebar. As he sputters into painful consciousness, he realizes the rebar has sliced further downward — right into his patient’s chest.
Teacher Kim deliberates. He calls Dr. Cha — no response. Then, he decides. Plunging down the corridors of Doldam, he walks smack into Director Park, and hardly stops for breath: harangue away, he shouts, but I’m leaving. Director Park levels him a look that says, this isn’t Season Two, you fool. There’s a car waiting outside, he replies. At the site, as soon as Teacher Kim can cadge a helmet and scowl at all presiding medical authorities, he’s heading down into the danger zone. There’s a scuffle of awkward limbs behind him: Dong-hwa!
Below, Teacher Kim meets Woo-jin’s eyes. Remove the rebar, and the teacher will bleed out instantly. It must be cut instead. But this will put Woo-jin at risk of irrecoverable nerve damage. Eyes misted over with pain, Woo-jin hardly hesitates. Do it, he commands. Dong-hwa begs him to reconsider, but both mentor and protege know where their duties lie. And so, Teacher Kim cradles the student he swore to protect, as Woo-jin’s agonized screams drown out the cutters.
Fresh from a successful surgery, Eun-jae agrees to operate on the teacher. It’s especially cruel timing: seconds later, her colleagues break the news about Woo-jin. Her hard-won composure breaks. When Director Park, elbows deep in blood and gauze, calls for her, she’s vanished. Meanwhile, Teacher Kim declares with all evidence of serenity that he’ll be fixing up Woo-jin. When his office door closes, though, he crumples. Woo-jin always said that Teacher Kim could stitch him back up if he was reckless. It’s all he can do not to cry.
There’s a tap at the door. Dr. Bae asks tactfully whether Teacher Kim’s okay. Short answer? Not even slightly. Stress aggravates his MS — and damage accumulates. But Teacher Kim is adamant: he’ll save Woo-jin, even if it costs his own arm. They should know better than to talk in private at Doldam: there’s a vast and storied history of eavesdropping in these halls. Outside, eyes wide with horror, is Eun-jae. But later, when the teacher is wheeled into surgery, she’s got her game face on: hands steady, eyes hard. Woo-jin risked his life for this man. There’s nothing she won’t give to save him.
Woo-jin is prepped for surgery. The rebar left a mess; there’s a hole punched clean through the nerve and artery. Teacher Kim works tirelessly to knit together the nerve, slicing out the damage and stitching what remains. But then it comes time to suture the artery. Under the terrified eyes of Dr. Bae and Dr. Nam, his hand begins to tremble. Clenching and unclenching his fist, Teacher Kim struggles to force it back under control — until, with superhuman effort, he succeeds. Cramming all his strength and skill into the next few minutes, he finishes without a single missed stitch. There’s a sticky moment as they wait for blood to flow back into the artery — but then, it’s pulsing as strongly as ever.
Later, having saved her own patient with spectacular aplomb, Eun-jae sits by Woo-jin’s bedside. As he stirs, she swipes away her tears; he brushes a hand against her cheek. Why, she asks, did you go so far? Was that patient worth almost losing your hand? Yes, replies Woo-jin, without hesitation. He’s a teacher. (As a former teacher myself, this is where I dissolve into sobs!) If Teacher Kim hadn’t caught him in time, his life would have come crashing down before he ever to came to Doldam. He knows for a fact that the man he saved was like that for someone too.
Eun-jae understands; she feels the same. But, as ever, things aren’t quite as harmonious for our second pairing. Ah-reum, having spent the whole day waiting for Eun-tak to text — by now, a sickeningly familiar feeling — confronts him in the hall. How much of your thoughts, she asks, do I really occupy? Eun-tak protests that he thought someone in the ER would have told her he was safe. But that’s rather her point. Does he really only see her as a colleague? Does he know her at all? Or does he think she only knows how to smile and be cheerful? An excellent point indeed.
A final patient bursts into the Trauma Center: Assemblywoman Ko. She looks like she’d rather lick a bovie than be here, but she still demands priority treatment. Nurse Oh is scathing. It’s Code Orange: the Trauma Center is for patients in critical condition. Assemblywoman Ko has a fracture, at worst. But before she can be wheeled away to the main hospital, a voice tells them to stop. It’s Dr. Jung. Carefully, he examines her injured leg. As he suspected, there’s a symptom she didn’t report — her entire foot is numb.
Later, in the observation room they confirm it: compartment syndrome. She’s in urgent need of surgery. Sullen, Assemblywoman Ko refuses to give her consent. Where was this attentiveness when her son was dying? Are they bowing and scraping to quash the lawsuit? At this, Dr. Jung can’t stay silent. I have a daughter, he says. I’m not the best dad — but there’s one thing I can do to make her proud. I work hard for my patients. So, fine: keep the lawsuit going. You should still get the surgery, because if you don’t, things will get bad.
Later, Teacher Kim seeks him out. Together, they smile up at the Trauma Center, and marvel at how far they’ve come. Not everyone, Teacher Kim tells him, gently, will understand our intentions. They’re simply not interested. They don’t know or care how hard we try. All we can do is move silently forward — because what matters the most never disappears.
Many a soul-searching doctor has been found lurking in Doldam’s reception. Fresh from his day in court, Dr. Cha is no exception. Previously, Eun-jae berated him for choosing the lawsuit over an emergency. Now, he startles Teacher Kim with a question: why did you operate on Assemblywoman Ko? Teacher Kim shrugs. There was no ulterior motive. Getting angrier, Dr. Cha rounds on Teacher Kim. Did you think, he says, I wouldn’t notice your arm? How far has your illness progressed? Teacher Kim flinches, shrinking back — it’s a palpable hit.
Worry about yourself, he says, not me. Today, you failed as a doctor, a father and a teacher. Dr. Cha’s reply is immediate and snide: you should show me more respect. After all, without me, you have no alternative. But at this, Teacher Kim chuckles. This one, he’s prepared for, with a Mark Twain quotation about ignorance — and a bombshell. You were only ever Plan B. Meanwhile, back in his office, a phone vibrates, displaying a very familiar name. Kang Dong-ju.
Ooh, that ending packed a satisfying punch. It changes everything. In these episodes, we saw a rare, vulnerable version of Teacher Kim. We’ve never seen him break down like this. But then, it’s taken three seasons for him to lower his defenses and let himself wholeheartedly love the Doldam family — no wonder his students are the only thing that could break him. The end of the episode, however, was a delicious return to form. That’s the Teacher Kim we know: inscrutable, mischievous, and approximately seventy steps ahead!
This was a wonderfully moving variation on Season 3’s ongoing theme of students and teachers. That, plus its tendency to give us Teacher Kim confronting himself — how many times this episode did he look grimly in the mirror? — makes Dong-ju’s return such a beautiful touch. After all, he was foil, student and most likely successor to our romantic doctor! I do have one quibble, though: Dong-ju’s return really highlights how male-dominated this line of surgical succession is. It’s a shame we’ve never had a female doctor lauded as the next Teacher Kim. Still, I’m hoping beyond hope that this enigmatic phone call might herald the return of my beloved Crazy Whale…! Regardless, I’m so unbelievably excited to see where this goes — Friday can’t come soon enough.
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