'I Don't Want The Knife In My Eye': How A Stabbing Changed This Surgeon's Life
"The memory is in my head, I can slow it down and replay it"
At first, Dr Michael Wong didn't notice he had been stabbed in the back. Not until he slipped and fell in a blooming pool of his own blood.
"I was tapping on my phone and felt this big push on my back. I thought it must have been some kids mucking around in the foyer and accidentally pushed me," the Melbourne brain and spinal surgeon said.
"Then I saw a lot of blood on the floor. I realised I was being attacked, and I fell."
It was 2014, and Wong had just arrived for work at the Western Hospital in Footscray. He consulted there one day a week. Wong parked his car and walked in the front door of the facility, pulling out his phone to call his registrar as he goes. He was barely steps inside the foyer when a man attacked him from behind with a knife.
Wong was stabbed more than a dozen times in the head, chest, arms, hands and back.
The attack went on for "a few minutes", Wong estimated, but he said it felt much faster.
"Time wasn't a factor in that horrendous situation. I remember every bit of it, but not one thing that feels like an eternity. It happened very quickly but I remember every second. The memory is in my head, I can slow it down and replay it," he told ten daily.
Wong is a brain and spinal surgeon, working to remove tumours and repair broken backs. He is a medical expert with years of experience, but said the analytical scientific part of his mind shut down during the attack -- except for one thing.
"One thought I had was when he was on top of me and holding his knife as it was coming to my head. I thought to myself 'I don't want to be blind, I don't want the knife in my eye', knowing it would go into my brain if it went into my eye," Wong said.
"I turned my head as the knife was coming down. It cut the top part of my skull. The human brain works in an unusual fashion."
Bystanders helped pull Wong to safety. His attacker would later be sentenced to 25 years of treatment at a secure mental health facility. But Wong himself might have died, if the attack hadn't happened mere metres from skilled surgeons and doctors, who quickly moved to save his life.
He was saved, and stayed in hospital for three months. Injuries to his head, hands and arms could have spelled the end of his surgical career, but Wong said he drew inspiration from his own patients to get through the toughest moments of his life.
"My hands and arms were in half plaster, I wasn't able to move my hands for about six weeks. The rehabilitation was a lot of stretching, exercising on my hands, and often quite painful," he said.
"As a doctor, it gave me a much deeper understanding of how the patient feels going through a significant life event, and a much deeper sense of compassion and empathy. People ask me how I survived, and one of the reasons is I learned from my brave patients who battle life-threatening diseases with a smile on their face."
"I’m able to do everything I could before, maybe even better."
Wong is back to practicing medicine, and while the physical scars of the attack will fade, there are other more lasting effects; namely, a new focus on how to make hospitals safer for patients and staff.
He said many hospitals allow people to simply wander off the street and into wards full of the sick and injured, and has been calling for tightened security measures around health facilities.
"That's how it was designed back in the day in England, but that model can't be applied to this day and age. In a ward, they need doors with a swipe card so strangers can't walk in. You have that for your office, so why not in a hospital where sick patients are more vulnerable?" he said.
"Issues are not being carefully assessed, in a more sensible way, to secure the workplace."
"More can always be done."