Best known as the Merry Medic, Dr James Wright is a favourite media personality in many Australian homes.
In his new memoir, Adventures of a Merry Medic, he shares warm and entertaining stories from his life so far, from his Depression-era childhood in Wahroonga to his early years as a country doctor, to becoming a household name in television, radio and newspapers.
Here, he shares some of his biggest lessons learned about health and the human body.
How did you first get interested in medicine?
My iron-fisted mum said, “Three sons – therefore, three doctors.” No other options!
I finished primary school in 1939, just as WWII started in Europe. It soon became clear to me – as soon as you turned 18, you went into the armed services. The only escape was to study hard, secure a very high pass in the Leaving Certificate, and get into Medicine at Sydney University. As it so happened, the war ended two months before I turned 18, so I went straight to uni in 1946.
What is it about the human body that continues to fascinate you today?
The fact that two microscopic cells can merge into one and produce a living machine that can continue to operate efficiently and effectively for anywhere up to 100 years, and often more.
I have delivered many infants, and seeing a newborn suddenly turn from blue to pink as oxygen surges into its lungs is a never-ending wonderment.
What are some of the most interesting lessons you've learned about health during all your work?
If you love your body and treat it well, it will respond magically. Each of the billions of cells that make up each organ are there, barracking for you. They want to survive. They are trying to do their best to operate smoothly, without interruption.
Every part of the body needs virtually the same components. Fresh air heads the list. So does clean drinking water, a sensible spread of foods that cover as many different colours as possible, plus exercising the body to make the heart strong and maintain blood circulating to all organs. This is not hard – just common sense.
"If you love your body and treat it well, it will respond magically. Each of the billions of cells are barracking for you. They want to survive."
What are some of the biggest changes in health and medicine you've seen over the years?
Around the mid-20th century, the discovery of antibiotics lead to a huge jump in medical care. This was mind-shattering, and to think it happened largely by serendipity. This I would say was the most explosive and beneficial single event that altered medical history.
Can you share one of your favourite career moments so far?
One memorable moment was when the Governor General awarded me the Order of Australia (AM) in 1998 for my voluminous public media health outreach, and the establishment and success of our non-profit charity and PBI (Public Benevolent Institution), the Medi Aid Centre Foundation.
One never seeks honour and glory. It comes as a reward to a fortunate few. But it gives one a warm feeling inside to think that the nation in general approves of the outcome of your efforts.
Tell us about your philanthropy work – what was the idea behind the Medi-Aid Centre Foundation?
I was a child of the Clutch Plague (being born in 1927). That meant living through stark deprivation, plus a terrible war. Dad was chaplain of a large hospital and saw the need for offering assistance and accommodation to elderly people with very little money.
He kept up with this idea. Finally my lovely nurse-trained wife and I each saved $50,000 and incorporated Medi Aid Centre Foundation.
It commenced with a block of 20 units. Collectively we now have almost one thousand units, all on the Surfers Paradise beach front overlooking the surf, all made available to the elderly with little money.
When it comes to health, what is one issue you wish all Australians knew more about?
Australians need to understand that eating more food than the body needs leads to becoming overweight. This can leads to diabetes. In turn, this can adversely affect all body organs.
Arteries become clogged with cholesterol, the byproduct of excess sugar intake. Poor circulation slowly then rapidly diminishes the effective operation of all body organs. In due course this can lead to chronic ill health.
In many cases, this is preventable. Talk to Diabetes Australia for more information.
Adventures of a Merry Medic by Dr James Wright is available now from New Holland Publishers.