Life lessons from an eccentric doctor

Dr. X – Surgeon Michiko Daimon

My latest guilty pleasure during this circuit breaker is a Japanese TV series on Netflix called “Dr. X – Surgeon Michiko Daimon.” Apart from the obvious charms of Ryoko Yonekura, the actress who plays the titular character, the thing that makes the show so enjoyable is a main issue for anyone living in an Asian Society, particularly if you’re the type of person who doesn’t accept things as they are.

Dr. Michiko Daimon is a freelance surgeon in a university hospital in central Tokyo. The show underlines the fact that she’s a lone wolf surgeon who “Hates Crowds” and “Hates Authority.” These characteristics clash very visibly with the culture of the hospital, which is deferential to authority and there is plenty of group think. She only gets away with her antics because she’s a brilliant surgeon who manages to do the things that no one else does.

The entire story was something relatable, especially after more than a decade as a freelance consultant in Asia, which is a part of the world that doesn’t have a culture that looks too kindly on people who stand out too obviously. Confucius, the founding philosopher of Chinese and by extension Japanese and Korean cultures, believed that everyone had a place in life and there was a great reverence for established authority, which in turn had an obligation to “look after” the people below.

While I do admire people, who can put the community above themselves, there are dangers in this approach.

The most obvious point is that the people who achieve great power aren’t always the most honourable and righteous. Even if a person starts out with the purest of intentions, a long spell in power often have a way of corrupting the best and brightest. As ethnic Chinese, I think of Mao, who lead the liberation of peasants against corrupt warlords and then ended up becoming nastier than the people he replaced. His contemporary in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh by contrast had good fortune to die before he could go nuts.

The next point with linear or top down systems is that people in them tend to lose focus. The problem in such systems is that the only way of moving in life is either up or down. It goes without saying that if your only way of getting anywhere is based on whether the top man likes you, your focus becomes pleasing the top man. The show illustrates this perfectly. In the hospital where Dr. Daimon works, everyone is terrified of the “Professors,” who are quite often the least able to perform basic surgery. Yet, nobody questions the diagnosis of the professors and they end up doing all sorts of crap to keep on the good side of the professors, including cover up for them when dealing with mistresses. The show inevitably starts with the entire hospital rushing up stairs to greet the director (who takes the lift) to accompany him on his rounds. The most prominent incident comes when a pediatric surgeon refuses to examine a child who is complaining of various pains that occur randomly throughout her body because his boss, the Professor of Pediatrics, performed the surgery and he won’t do anything that makes his boss look bad.

While a certain amount of deference to established authority is warranted, an obsession with looking up and down is unhealthy. The problem that the hospital faces is the doctors are more focused on keeping their professors happy and the professors are only interested in their research papers. The needs of patients are ignored and this is where Dr. Daimon comes in. She’s terrible at fitting in but she acts in the best interest of patients giving them medical advice they need rather than what they want. In one episode she antagonizes a celebrity cook because she refuses to admire her cooking (which is awful). However, she is the one who rescues the celebrity who has cancer and needs surgery. She goes as far as to perform the surgery with a consent form because it is a life and death situation and that is more important than the prospect of being sued.

In hierarchical systems, the reality of becoming too obsessed with climbing the ladder and our boss’s opinion of us that we forget that the people keeping the business running are the customers. I think of my “career” path. Couldn’t make it in PR agency. Either rubbed bosses or colleagues the wrong way. Yet, as a freelancer I actually did jobs that most people would say I had no right to do as a lone individual (think Saudi Embassy, IIM and IIT).

The next point is that you got to do the work and be prepared to cast your net ass widely as possible to get information. In the first series, Dr. Diamon chats with a patient who worked in the rubber industry. From there, she realizes that the patient has allergy to latex and she quickly orders non latex gloves before the surgery. So, when she has to step in to perform the surgery, she’s able to ensure that everyone else has gloves that won’t cause the patient to have an allergic reaction.

Lesson here is to be open to things and knowledge doesn’t necessarily comes from where you expect it. As my favourite liquidator says when looking for financial shenanigans, don’t just look at financial records – simple emails can also give you plenty of information.

Dr. Diamon is also the only doctor in the hospital to check x-rays and when she questions her superiors, she’s doing so from a point of knowledge rather than taking things in on a wholesale basis. To get knowledge, you have to actually look for it.

Next point is that Dr. Diamon is good at getting people onto her side. In one instance, she concedes defeat and gets another doctor to take charge and look good. This is a doctor who refused to work with her until forced to because he didn’t trust her. It’s only as he’s been operating that he realizes that he’s doing what she wants him to do and gives her respect when she allows him to be the hero. Her main point is that she knew she couldn’t achieve the mission without his help and so is willing to give away credit

This leads to the next point, which is, although Dr. Diamon does not make “friends,” she has them. There is her “agent” Akira, who handles the money. While Dr. Diamon is a brilliant surgeon, she’s terrible with money and her agent ensures that she gets well compensated for her work. Moral of the story – work with people who will cover for your weaknesses.

Many years ago, I remember the Bishop of Lewes, who was our guest at “Speech Day” urged us to become “eccentric.” I remember this because this wasn’t something that you’d expect a guest at a public-school speech day to mention, especially when that guest was a monk.

I never quite appreciated this until I started watching Dr. X. One should not be afraid of being a little unusual. It helps shield one from the dangers of group think and when you’re not afraid to stand out from time to time, you get the chance of focusing on the things that you actually need to focus on rather than on the things that people would like you to be distracted by.


Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.




10 Responses to “Life lessons from an eccentric doctor”

  • Top Money for Top Talents:

    Dear Tang Li,
    You are correct to say the most obvious point is that the people who achieve great power aren’t always the most honourable and righteous.

    Not just communist PRC CCP. Look at democratic ROC DPP…

    So many Ang Mo Tua Kee here say we must follow democratic ROC DPP.
    Just blindly copy and adopt US political system.

    These group of Singaporeans are just blind and choose not to see the evil side of ROC DPP, corruption, abuse of power etc etc …

    Here is the list and you can read the DPP corruption facts here.

    DPP even disband the Special Investigation Bureau, a branch that specially task with investigating top level corruption. 特偵組,抓……貪污腐敗的官員

    Democratic Progressive Party ownself had so many corruption that it is afraid of Special Investigation Bureau 特偵組 and quickly disband it.

    So Singaporeans, be smart and not stupid like the 30% opposition supporters.

    Communist or Democratic, it is all the same. It is about protecting self interest and appoint own people to top position.

    Everywhere is the same, you scratch my back and I scratch your back.

    Majullah $PAP$ $PAP$ Huat$ Huat$ Huat$
    Singaporeans must be Cheaper, Better, Faster.
    Workers must accept wage sacrifices to keep businesses going.

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  • Tae Ni:

    Who interested in your fairy tale? Just say what you want to say like a man.

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  • ???:

    Yawn !!!

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  • The ugly truth:

    Tang , a tv show is a tv show. In real life, nothing like a tv show.

    E.g. the good doctor , in reality which hospital dares to hire him.

    E.g. Not to long ago , Jack Ma tio lambasted due to his comment 商业是最大的公益. Many will agree many will not. I think he talk too much.

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  • trublu:

    Bishop urged you to be *eccentric*?
    What he really meant was THE RIGHT THINGS YOU DO OR GOING TO DO WILL APPEAR *eccentric* to the MAJORITY OF PEOPLE in this MAD,MAD *world*?

    So,WHAT IS RIGHTFUL N NORMAL N MORAL BECOMES *eccentric* essentially?

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  • trublu:

    thats why they all appear stupid?

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  • patriot of TUMASIK:

    Enough lah!!! Tangfastic getting too BORING!!! if you have nothing to say or write about current affairs in the little reddot don’t bother at all leh!!!

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  • Zzzzzz:

    I think people are sick and tired of CB and are becoming more social. Look at Robertson Quay and elderlies gathering at bus stop to gamble.

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  • CHT:

    We do learn more about life through books and films and the author was sharing what he learned from a film that he has seen. We should appreciate his sharing whether we agree with him or not.

    In every society, the people in power are wary of the power of books and films to differing degrees, so we see censorship and banning, and in extreme cases, book burning. This has been happening and has not stopped happening.

    We are in dire need for education reform to introduce liberal arts education where critical thinking is promoted and celebrated. But don’t hold your breath on this as this is contrary to the people in power to strengthen their hold on power. They would want to keep the people in ignorance and in check. The impetus to improve ourselves rests with us.

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  • Thinking aloud:

    This reminds me of Lawrence Wong who told his boss what the boss’ estranged siblings were doing or dealing with the government departments.
    He is the second FM, co-chairs the Coronavirus task force.
    Not surprise if he becomes the DPM when Heng becomes PM.
    This is political patronage.

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