Hospital Playlist Season 2 (2021) Episode 6: Work-Life Intersections

Last week as some of the spotlight fell on the new kids on the block the emphasis seemed to be on the inevitability of mistakes and the mitigation of them within the training hierarchy of the hospital’s system. While the very highest standards are expected of any medical staff, human error is bound to occur although they can and should be minimized due to the gravity of the work that’s being done in such a context. Even as the song of the week “Superstar” made its contribution to the storytelling echoing the theme loudly and cheerfully, the band practice and the meal leading up to it was also a reminder of the necessity of having life outside of work. Enjoying some downtime with colleagues, friends and loved ones whether it’s around food or hobbies is an essential part of what makes life worth living.

The episode features a number of important interactions between co-workers in the hospital. The Angel-in-Us cafe seems to be a popular hangout for all manner of staff when they find a moment or two to catch a breath. Jae-hak while having his regular caffeine fix there has encounters with Seon-bin, Gyeo-ul, Seok-min who not only share their hopes and fears as residents and fellows of the hospital but get really up close and personal. He and Gyeo-ul are witnesses to an unforeseen, backhanded marriage proposal that unfolds in unusual fashion. What begins as a bit of professional talk leads to an intersection with the deeply personal. The catalyst for this is when Seok-min talks about the importance of advancing professionally with the right skills because of monetary concerns — responsibility for his ageing parents and impending nuptials. He is thinking ahead not just for the sake of upskilling as a physician but also for a personal future he aspires to that realistically requires a great deal of resources for matters to eventuate.

Jeong-won’s interaction with Jun-wan at their flat not only humorously highlights the sad state of affairs regarding Jun-wan’s misfortunes with romance but it also makes way for Jeong-won to talk about his future matrimonial plans with Jang Gyeo-ul. He’s been spending a lot of time with her outside of work. Jun-wan is increasingly feeling the loss of his flatmate, friend and co-worker while sensing a change in the status quo that’s not very far off. Even while he is stuck in a rut pining for Ik-sun, Jeong-won on the other hand, has galloped along in his relationship with Gyeo-ul. Small talk about heading off to work quickly transitions to talk about Jeong-won’s noticeable absence in their abode, then a leap into plans for matrimony, the implication being that Jeong-won will be moving out sooner rather than later. When Jeong-won drops by to see Gyeo-ul later at the GS staff room, their moment of intimacy is interrupted by the sudden arrival of old-new residents. It seems that Gyeo-ul is taking them out for a bite. In their presence Jeong-won immediately reverts to being the friendly but somewhat distant professor. However, the deeper significance of him handing his credit card to Gyeo-ul seems lost on them. When one of the new residents comments that the apparently unattached Jeong-won is very much her type, it occurs to Gyeo-ul (perhaps not) for the first time that secret office romances might have its drawbacks.

During a nighttime feast in Song-hwa’s office, Ik-jun notes that Jun-wan is spending an inordinate time at work even when he’s not on night duty. He poses the question to Jun-wan: “Are you a ghost that lives at the hospital?” Work has its place but Jun-wan needs a life outside of the hospital. It’s unhealthy for him to be moping around the hospital which is increasingly his source of refuge. He doesn’t want to go home to an empty place because Jeong-won won’t be there and Jae-hak’s out dining with his wife. Then he petulantly complains that both men are being selfish for not being considerate of his needs. At this point Song-hwa suggests that Jun-wan starts dating again, offering to set him up with someone and he shoots that idea down instantly. He hasn’t moved on and he doesn’t want to. He turns to Ik-jun and asks him why he can’t forget his ex. This hits too close to home for Ik-jun who removes himself from this awkward situation immediately. It’s obvious that Jun-wan is looking to his friends for solace because while work has its own rewards it is still just work… and is no substitute for dating. Likewise Song-hwa and Seok-min advises Seong-hyeong to get some downtime away from caring for the teenage girl who hails from his hometown lest he neglect other aspects of his job. He feels a personal stake in her recovery because of that connection but the implication from his seniors is that he can’t give his best to his patients if he’s not firing on all cylinders. Self-care is necessary for a good recharge.

When one of Seok-hyeong’s expectant mothers checks in with pre-eclampsia and a baby with oesophageal atresia, he says he will speak to Professor Ahn Jeong-won directly. Their friendship spanning over three decades grants him that kind of easy access. But it’s also somewhat chuckleworthy to see the usually crowd-shy Professor Yang not shifting about awkwardly before deciding whether or not to get on a lift. Their conversation in the lift and during the joint conference is an important parallel to a similar discussion that was featured in S1, Episode 4. But Jeong-won responds to the situation quite differently even as the two men go back and forth. There’s none of the babyish whining that characterized some of his behaviour in the previous conference. Could it be because there’s no Jang Gyeo-ul in the room? Or is it just the case that he’s now much more comfortable making these tough calls in light of his decision to stay which is boosted by the fact that he’s also in a relationship that is meeting his emotional needs? There’s something different about Jeong-won. For some reason he is showing a tacit acceptance of what the job demands from him combined with quiet gravitas.

This is also a good opportunity to bring in Rosa and Jong-su who have been given air time spending a fair bit of time together at her place in Yangpyeong having meals together and just generally enjoying life in their advancing years

Ageing seems a lot harder on Jong-su than Rosa who can at least rely on her busy adult children to take time out to spend time with her. It helps too that she doesn’t make a lot of demands on on her children in comparison to Seok-hyeong’s mother for instance. As she’s always been preoccupied with losing all her kids to religious celibacy, it seems that her sense of proportion about her priorities should be is rather more balanced. She may be wealthy but she doesn’t live like the typical chaebol mother with any of the trappings. It’s easy to forget all of that when she seems to be an average housewife of her generation doing fairly ordinary things around her home like cooking and gardening. Moreover her friendship with Jong-su is very down-to-earth and they ruminate about the usual sorts of things people of their age chat about — medical conditions, absent-mindedness and their families. They don’t gab about hospital matters (that seems to be another world) and stick to the personal.

Ik-jun gets a call from U-ju pleading with him to go camping because his little girlfriend Mo-ne has gone camping again with her father. The first thing, Ik-jun wonders is what Mo-ne’s dad does. Presumably trying to imagine how a working man in this day and age would have time to take regular camping trips with his kids. Even though U-ju understands the importance of what his father has to do — save lives — he is still a kid with needs. It’s a reminder that apart from being a surgeon, Ik-jun is also dad of a growing ladl. What might have been satisfactory when U-ju was a year or two younger might not be now that he’s much more aware of broader possibilities in the big wide world.

Although I don’t think much of the noble idiocy track that’s been forced onto Jun-wan, I will say this though. Living out the consequences of his own makjang has broken Jun-wan. He was already softening before this but he’s become more empathetic. Increasingly he’s casting off the tough guy demeanor. That’s seen in his retelling of a story when he was a resident giving guardians the bad news. Note too the language he uses to Chang-min’s distraught parents. “He must have been so lonely in the PICU. Please be by his side.” This is a man who identifies with the dying lad. He too is lonely and quite likely feels his loneliness more acutely when the people around him are basking in their happiness. Whether we think he should be with Ik-sun or not after this is really beside the point because at this point he is man trapped by his own pain and needs to find some way out of it.

Regardless of how rewarding and noble work might be, it can’t replace long-term relationships in other spheres. The recurring point throughout has always been that maintaining relationships of substance require effort because they are a part of who we are and what the world means to us. It’s a constant reminder that the medical staff who seem capable of incredible feats on a daily basis are also husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters to someone outside the workplace.