Book Review: Walking Free by Munjed Al Muderis

04 Feb 2016

WalkingFreeReview by Jean Fagan

Mudjed Al Muderis came from a privileged background. He went to school with Saddam Hussein’s sons and he did his medical training just as the Iran-Iraq war began.

The 27 year old junior surgeon at Bagdad’s Saddam Hussein Medical Centre started his day like any other in October 1999. That was until soldiers stormed the hospital, marching a group of young men into the ward, demanding that elective surgery across 10 operating theatres be cancelled and that three busloads of army deserters each have one of their ears partially amputated.

The head of surgery refused, citing the Hippocratic Oath. He was taken outside and the sound of a single gunshot was heard. Muderis took a moment of distraction in the chaos to slip out through a side door. He sat huddled in a cubicle in the women’s locker room for the next five hours and contemplated his future. He later overheard young nurses in hushed and agitated voices talking about what they had been forced to do to the young men lying on their operating tables.

It was late afternoon after they had all left, that he quietly entered the men’s change room, changed into civilian clothes and walked very slowly out of the hospital, not wanting to draw attention to himelf.

Mudjed Al Muderis, the only child of one of Iraqi’s noble families had become a fugitive who didn’t dare call his parents or return home.

He couldn’t know then that within a few weeks he would be the only doctor on a boat packed with more than 150 asylum seekers heading for Christmas Island, whilst looking after three women in late stages of pregnancy, and others who were being violently seasick. From there he arrived at Curtin Detention Centre and was assigned the number by which he was known for the next nine months.

Muderis says that it was during this time and experiencing the brutality in detention that for the first time he thought about giving up, and, particularly after being thrown into Curtin’s punishment unit. In the end, it was just before the 2000 Olympic Games that he was released and stood alone outside of the Detention Centre waiting for a bus.

From this beginning in Australia he went on to study medicine from the beginning again and pursue his childhood dream of being a surgeon. The rest is history as Mudjed went on to become one of Australia’s most respected orthopaedic surgeons living in Sydney with his wife who is a GP, their daughter and a dog.

“Walking Free’ is available at all major book retailers and online, HGI found the best price from Angus and Robertson