Dr Wong shares his emotional story on our podcast below.
The automatic doors slid open and I walked into the busy hospital.
Kissing my wife Christine goodbye that morning, I hoped I’d be home in time to tuck our kids, Charles, then eight, and Charlotte, four, into bed that night.
But as the only neurosurgeon rostered on, it was going to be a hectic day. Suddenly, as I strode through the foyer, I felt a big push in my back.
Must be kids mucking around, I thought.
But, glancing down, blood was pooling beneath me.
Slipping, I fell on my back and saw a man with a 19-centimetre knife lunging at me.
In shock, I couldn’t feel pain as I was stabbed and slashed – over and over.
The blows rained down and I fought to get away, struggling wildly as the weapon glinted above me.
As my attacker drove it down towards my eye, instinct kicked in.
If the blade pierces my eye socket, it’ll go straight into my brain, I thought, logic trumping fear. And I’m the only neurosurgeon here.
It meant there was no-one else to help me!
I’m not going to die today, I thought.
Turning my head, I made sure the vicious blow landed on my skull. At least I wouldn’t be blind…
Suddenly, my assailant fell back. People were screaming as I felt a tug on my collar and I was dragged backwards on the ground through a set of double doors, leaving a trail of blood.
Looking down at my arms and hands, they were punctured with deep cuts.
‘Someone please call my wife,’ I choked out, before I was taken to theatre.
The sting as antiseptic was splashed on the open wounds on my chest and abdomen was excruciating.
Then, everything faded away...
When I woke up, a tube was lodged in my throat.
‘Michael?’ a familiar voice said.
Christine, I thought, seeing my wife by my side before drifting off once more.
Coming to again, the clock on the wall read 2am.
As I glanced down at my hands, snatches came back to me.
If he’d severed a main artery, I could’ve had a stroke, I thought.
Wiggling each finger, I moved my arm and leg on one side of my body, then the other.
Both sides work, I breathed, relieved. I’m going to be okay.
Stabbed 14 times in the back, face, chest, hands, forearm, torso, stomach and legs, the surgical team did an incredible job of stitching me back together.
Part of my lung was removed to stem bleeding and three plastic surgeons worked to repair severed tendons in my arms and hands. I’d lost my entire supply of blood – six litres had to be replaced with transfusions.
But who would want me dead?
It turned out that a 48-year-old man, Kareem Al-Salami – a patient of mine – had been arrested and charged with my attempted murder.
But why had he attacked me?
The important thing for now though, was that I’d survived.
And I had the brave bystanders who’d put themselves in danger to thank for that.
Courageously, a nurse had waved a bag at Al-Salami to try and keep him at bay, while a leukaemia patient threw a backpack at him – only to have the knife turned on them.
Then, a medical equipment technician grabbed an A-frame sign and ran into the fray screaming, as I was dragged to safety.
Without their courage, I would have died.
Six days later, I walked out of the hospital. With my hands in splints, I couldn’t eat without help or get myself dressed.
My eight-year-old even had to help me when I went to the bathroom. If that’s not humbling, I don’t know what is.
But in my job I’d seen some terrible things – I knew bad things happened to good people, so I didn’t waste time asking why.
Instead, I focused on what I needed to do to recover.
When the splints came off after six weeks, I worked tirelessly with a hand therapist to rebuild my strength.
Miraculously, just three months after the attack, I had full use of my hands and was able to go back to work as a surgeon again.
While I disliked crowded areas and people walking behind me, my real scars were physical, not emotional.
In December 2015, nearly two years after the attack, Kareem Al-Salami appeared at Victoria’s Supreme Court.
The judge heard that in 2012 I’d successfully operated on his spine. Due to his then undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia, he’d gradually developed delusional beliefs that the operation had gone wrong.
He’d had psychotic episodes and hallucinations before yelling, ‘I kill you!’ and stabbing me repeatedly.
He’s sick, I thought, sadly.
In June 2016, Al-Salami was found not guilty due to his mental impairment and sentenced to 25 years of supervised treatment at a secure mental health hospital.
I was happy he’d get the help he desperately needed.
Four years on from the attack, I’m campaigning to improve security for staff in hospitals.
Busy public areas of hospitals should have trained security guards in them and wards should only be accessible by swipe cards.
I know just how fortunate I am to still be here – but we need to protect medical staff who are trained to help the public in an emergency.
Now, I’ll sit down for dinner with my family and imagine a parallel universe – one where my chair is empty.
How would they have coped? I wonder.
I’m just so grateful that I’m still here – and I appreciate my loved ones more than ever.
Tune in to our podcast How I Survived below to hear more from Dr Wong.