Everything began with the monophonic beep from the ECG monitor that pierced through the stagnant air, bottled up inside the curtained cubicle. It was exactly fourteen years ago.
"How's my dad?! I need to see him now-"
A fatigue, raspy voice came from a young boy still in his school uniform, who was no more than sixteen, pinned in between the curtain drapes.
The boy's sodden round orbs finally drifted across the tiles and landed on the middle-aged man lying on the bleached mattress. Those eyes were lightless and near-dead, even the circling liquid inside them did not add any shimmer.
The man had whites flanking his forehead, and grooves embedded in his blanched skin. He must have worked round-the-clock through his life that would desperately need any form of slumber.
But not now. Not when his son just came home, half-dancing, with an A- for the first time.
The man was looking too pleasant perhaps for any people like him, his closed lids only remind others of a lovely afternoon doze, an open book on the lap, a mug of hot tea beside.
Only young Donghae knew this was an illusion because he had touched his father's coarse palm. It was stone cold.
"...T-This wasn't my dad. I knew it, his hands are always warm and he doesn't need heat patches in the winter! Definitely not as stiff and freezing as this...What have you done to him?!" Shrieked young Donghae who shot up and clutched the hem of the doctor's coat. Creased the fabric until all his fingernails whitened and pain came from their tips.
"Calm down, sir! Please take a seat there, we cannot help it-" He felt hands so powerful of might, shoving him away from the coated figure.
"He was just, just watching the variety show on his sofa! He was waiting for mom to set the table and me to come home from school! Why, tell me...Explain this!" choked Donghae on an audible sob, and to his absolute horror, his tears were fleeing and turning into a ragged-breath squall, "It was just half an hour ago...Please, half an hour!"
Donghae swung himself from the nurses, his knuckles were white as he gripped the doctor's sleeves, "Please...Please, don't give up on my dad, don't give up on him!" His inner felt ripped open but nothing could downpour except despair.
Yet, Donghae's wrists were clamped and pushed away abruptly. Donghae couldn't react to all this upon.
"You don't know what is a brain aneurysm, do you, kid? So I ask you better behave and give me some respect."
This voice resembled a Grim Reaper to Donghae although Donghae hadn't heard of the Reaper's curses. It was unwavering and cruel as if striking a hammer and everything settled.
"W-what...what do you mean-" with a sob of despair Donghae threw himself onto the floor tiles, so cold against his skin.
"You want me to explain it? I can. A brain aneurysm is fatal in 60 percent of cases. Your father lies in the sixty. It is how it is."
The doctor pressed on with a robotic voice and unchanging tone as if he was reading a chapter of his textbook. No weeping, no sympathy, no emotions at all.
Is my father just a death number, merely an unfortunate statistic to you?
"If you will excuse me, I shall go now." The doctor fled the scene, and away all the last-remaining warmth in the room. All was vague, all was pain.
That it doesn't matter, because there is a sixty percent chance to die? Is it all written up in your textbooks so you can proudly say 'it is how it is' to your patient's family?
Donghae felt as if there wasn’t enough oxygen in the atmosphere. His chest hurt from uncontrollable sobbing followed by gulping for air. His lungs just couldn't expand to fill his thoracic.
Mum shrieked in a hysterical cry as she held onto his son's thin, convulsive body.
Donghae still set his eyes tracing the doctor. That was a gangly physique in white.
However, Donghae couldn't appreciate its pureness anymore, because you've just stained it black.
From the furnished corridor entered a figure in a white shirt and suit trousers, the formal dressing of student interviewees. Dr. Park and Dr. Jones didn't see any sparks on this candidate, as things turned out he was wrong on both counts.
"Pray, take a seat. I am Dr. Park from the School of Biomedical Science, and Dr. Jones, from the School of Pharmacy. Nice to meet you." Dr. Park lost count of repeating this redundancy throughout a whole day of break-out interviews.
The face peeking out across the table was a boy of about eighteen, but he looked awfully underaged, practically a babe in arms. The candidate's cheeks were blanched from the cold and his eyes partially obscured with brown hair. He smiled in the way teenagers do when they're masking nervousness, and despite the cold day the two professors couldn't help but feel warmed. In a way, he reminded Dr. Park of his son, though he had long since left home.
The boy returned the gesture, his voice tender and with slight trembles at its end, “Lee Donghae, pleased to meet you, professors.”
"So, Donghae, why here?" Fast strike.
Donghae bit his lower lip and sat upright in the two pairs of shrilling, penetrating black eyes behind spectacles at him.
"Why medicine?" Dr. Park paced up, hands folded on the table before him, "It is not a piece of cake, and frankly, it takes decades before you can say money." Dr. Jones nodded silently beside him, his hawk-like eyes engrossed in the candidate as if to probe any ill-intentions from Donghae.
"If I can be anyone, I would be that doctor who walked through the curtain drapes that night. " Out of the examiners' wildest dream, this was an atypical answer they had gone through.
But mostly, they were shaken by the two balls of fires smoldering in the boy's eyes. They could smell its smoke drifting over the paddock- Fire of a million dreams.
Donghae narrated the scene three years ago. Even the impatient Dr. Jones, busy fiddling with the student's portfolio, had dropped the files and listened with great concentration.
"...It is okay to not shed a tear anymore for death, but never, come in with those eyes that didn't even flicker. Don't recite off your textbooks and death rates. Somehow the living doesn't need your hard facts for lecture, they just need your empathy from this world in the face of the irreversible. But just...just don't say, 'it is how it is'. Don't." Donghae's voice broke with a snivel towards the end of his answer.
"I know my dad will not come back anymore. But I know he would wish to have a hearty doctor to see him off to the other side, the eternality."
"Yes, this is my answer for why medicine." Donghae's glassy orbs returned to the professors in front of him, "As if someday, if I worked hard and is being very lucky, I can arrive at the same scene and save my dad."
The interview panel sat unspoken, unmoved in their chairs, for a long while.
Watching the door slide back to its frame, Dr. Jones took off his spectacles, rubbed the bridge of his nose, before letting out a relieved smile, "...He looks like our future pillar."
Our future pillar can burden not just the load of his own existence, but also the hefty weight of life.
The heavy pressure exerted to your shoulders the moment you put your white coat on, and not realizing the fabric is air-light.
Dr. Park watched the boy off. He could see how great of a doctor he can be.
Hyukjae's steps halted to watch the crowd of a hundred freshmen fill the gymnasium to take their white coats for the ceremony later in the afternoon.
"Size M! Who is getting size M? Come here!"
Bursts of laughter and friends shoving around for a playful event had set the solemn figure outside the swarm apart.
Hyukjae was into his fifth year of medical school when he was invited to the annual white coat ceremony as a top student guest. "The panel wants you to don the coat for freshmen," stated his father, Lee Cheongyin, the assistant dean of the faculty at that time.
As a record-breaker of grade-skipping in medical school, Hyukjae skipped entirely the curriculum of the first two preclinical years on campus. It was unprecedented that a freshman to the prestigious Seoul National University College of Medicine was only spending a year before direct acceleration into clinical rotations.
However, this meant Hyukjae had not experienced the white coat ceremony on this scale, because he was donned the coat alone, witnessed by tens of doctors in practice, some were his father's renowned colleagues, and many more were his professors that came for appreciation. He didn't have any special feelings towards it. No ecstasy.
But they aren't. Hyukjae eyed his junior running past him with cameras in hand, they are all aspired. Longing for this doctor coat and their names sewed on it.
Why the fuss? Hyukjae stared down at his coat hanging on his forearm, which accompanied him