Michael Wong, who was stabbed when he walked into work at the Western Hospital in February, has spoken of his recovery. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Michael Wong had just stepped through the main entrance of the Western Hospital when he felt a knife plunge deep into his back.
The sharp blow knocked him to the ground where he remained while his attacker stood over him, stabbing him another 13 times in his arms, hands, chest, abdomen and forehead. ‘‘I remember every second of the attack ... I remember the knife coming down and I remember turning my head because I didn’t want to be blind,’’ the respected neurosurgeon said of the incident which shocked Victorians on February 18.
Dr Wong, then head of neurosurgery at the Footscray hospital, was walking into work about 8:30am when the stabbing unfolded before horrified patients and staff who rushed to help him.
During his rescue, he remembers telling someone to call his wife Christine. He also recalls looking at a bloody wound on his right hand, one of the ‘‘tools of his trade’’, and wondering about the damage.
‘‘I tried to move my finger and I couldn’t move two fingers because the tendon had been cut,’’ Dr Wong said.
As he bled profusely, especially from a deep cut in his back that reached a lung, he was rushed to an operating theatre for surgery. Over the next 10 hours, he lost his entire supply of blood (between five and six litres were replaced with transfusions) as his colleagues worked hard to save his life.
During the surgery, a cardio-thoracic surgeon removed part of his lung to stem bleeding and three plastic surgeons carefully mended severed tendons and muscles in his arms and hands, hoping he would be able to use them again. At first, the team of doctors were concerned injuries to Dr Wong’s back had cut nerves required for mobility in his legs, but mercifully, they had been spared.
Speaking this week for the first time about his recovery, Dr Wong said although he could not talk about certain aspects of the case for legal reasons he wanted to thank the people who saved his life and protected him from disability. In what he described as a blessing, he has regained full movement in his arms and hands, allowing him to return to work at the Royal Melbourne, Epworth Eastern and John Fawkner hospitals.
‘‘It is a miracle. I have full use of my hands. I have a chance of getting back to full-time practice but I am still doing two hours of therapy a day. My three plastic surgeons and my hand therapist saved my life and my career. None of my surgeons thought I would ever work again. I cannot thank them enough,’’ he said.
“I also want to thank all the people at the hospital who helped. I feel so grateful for their work. They have to cope with limited resources and some challenging conditions in public hospitals, but when they are needed they are magnificent.”
After spending five days in hospital, Dr Wong said he endured six painful weeks of having both of his arms and hands in splints while the rest of his wounds healed. When he took the splint off his left hand - the most seriously injured of the two - he could not straighten his fingers.
‘‘It took a lot of painful stretching to get my fingers back,’’ he said. ‘‘But I was determined to recover. So many people had helped me stay alive and get my body repaired ... I kept thinking I was so lucky and I had to be a tough nut. I have seen some shocking things in my career as a neurosurgeon - four-year-olds with malignant brain tumours, young people smashed to pieces after falling from the back of a truck. If they could make it, so could I. I kept asking myself what I was whingeing about.’’
Dr Wong said although his injuries had been extremely traumatic for those around him, especially his wife and two children, aged eight and three, he did not feel mentally scarred. He has not returned to work at the Western Hospital since the attack though and feels more wary of people around him.
‘‘I don’t particularly like people walking behind me,’’ he said.
The 43-year-old, who migrated from Hong Kong to Australia when he was 18, said he reflected a lot on the bravery of his patients while he was ill and felt his injuries were trivial compared to the pain others endured, sometimes with a smile on their face.
“My patients have also taught me about loyalty and patience - many of them waited until I came back to get their surgery done. I cannot thank them enough,” he said.
Remarkably, Dr Wong said he did not feel angry about his experience and instead felt it had made him a better doctor.
‘‘Ever since I’ve come back, I’ve kind of slowed down a bit. I don’t rush as much and if a patient wants to sit down and talk, I say ‘Please do, tell me about your problem because I might be able to help’,’’ he said.
A 48-year-old Sunshine North man, Kareem Al-Salami, was arrested shortly after the attack. He been charged with attempted murder, intentionally causing serious injury in circumstances of gross violence, and recklessly causing serious injury in circumstances of gross violence. He is due to face court later this year.