Norbu Chen

"Tibetan" Healer

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Norbu Chen 1974

William A. Nolen M.D.
Chapter 12, on Norbu Chen

Extract from Healing: A Doctor in Search of a Miracle (1975)
(fair use under copyright law, noncommercial, for research purposes only)

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Getting a List

I had been assured, by John White of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, that Norbu would let me watch him treat patients, but apparently this was not to be.

"I'm not treating anyone this week," Norbu said. "Besides, I don't like anyone watching when I treat my patients. Do your patients want people watching when you operate on them?"

Since I had seen Norbu treat the mice, and since Randy Lewis had assured me that, technically, the treatment of patients followed the same routine, it wasn't critical that I watch Norbu work on patients. But it was essential, if I was going to evaluate Norbu's healing powers, that I get from him the names and addresses of some of the patients he had cured. I pestered him about this frequently during my four-day visit, and finally, just before I was to leave, he jotted down the names of some of his patients and had his secretary go through his files – such as they were – and get me others.

"I'm going to give you some of my failures, too," he said. "I'm not perfect."

"No," I told him, "that won't be necessary. I'll assume there have been some patients you couldn't help. Just give me names of patients you've cured, preferably patients who had diseases that would otherwise have been fatal."

When I left Houston I had the names, addresses and/or phone numbers of eight of Norbu's patients. Next to each patient's name Norbu had written his "diagnosis."

It had been apparent from our early conversations that Norbu knew almost nothing about medicine. He threw medical terms around – cirrhosis, dialysis, even "vaghys," an abbreviation surgeons occasionally use when speaking of vaginal hysterectomies – but on those occasions when I dared to press him to elaborate on a disease he immediately shut me up. "I don't care about all that bullshit," he said. "Vibrations lead me to the patient's trouble and my power flows into him and heals. It's perfectly natural."

The list of cures which he gave me confirmed my impression that he knew little about medicine. There was only one cancer, a skin cancer, on the list. The others included migraine headaches, whiplash pain and a variety of kidney and liver diseases – none of which were malignant. There was even one patient who was listed as "hysterectomy." Nevertheless, I wrote or called them all, and six of the eight gave me their stories. I missed only one migraine headache and one whiplash but both these problems are represented by the cures I did get. Here are the results – I've changed only names and identifying characteristics.

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Case 1, Louise Rawlins

1.) Louise Rawlins, a fifty-nine-year-old woman with cirrhosis of the liver.

Mrs. Rawlins had been a heavy drinker for thirty-five years. She admitted to "about a pint a day," and as is true of most alcoholics, she underestimated her intake by a wide margin. "She drinks at least a quart of bourbon a day," her son told me, "or at least she did, till Norbu started treating her."

Her alcoholic consumption hadn't been this high for all of the thirty-five years. She had drunk regularly and heavily from the age of twenty-four, but her "pint a day" estimate had probably been reasonably accurate until 1969, when her husband died. It was then that she'd moved up to a quart a day, and simultaneously, had stopped eating well.

The liver can take a lot of punishment. Some people who are blessed with naturally strong bodies can drink a pint, even a quart, of liquor every day for years and never show any evidence of liver disease, as long as they eat a sound, well-balanced diet. But once the heavy drinker stops eating – watch out. Even the hardiest liver will degenerate on an "alcohol only" diet.

The liver has superb recuperative powers. In the early stage of cirrhosis, the liver cells become loaded with fat. If, at this time, a patient will stop drinking and start eating, the liver cells will lose their fat and become healthy again. And even if 50 percent of the liver cells are so far gone that they can't recover, the patient can still get along nicely. Patients who have had half of their liver removed because of tumors or injuries live perfectly normal lives.

When Mrs. Rawlins went to Norbu Chen she had the signs and symptoms of liver disease. She was jaundiced, her bilirubin (bile pigment) was 4.0 mgms per 100 cc of blood (a normal level is about 0.5 mgms per 100 cc), and she had a swollen abdomen and swollen ankles. Jaundice and fluid retention are both associated with liver disease.

In September 1972, Norbu treated Mrs. Rawlins. She went through the usual routine – bed rest and grapefruit juice – and then Norbu "hit" her with his power. After he treated her, Norbu told Mrs. Rawlins to go home, stay in bed for four days, and of course, abstain from alcohol. She followed Norbu's directions, she lost a lot of fluid and her bilirubin dropped to 1.4 mgms – still elevated, but much better than it had been. "Norbu cured me," she said.

Unfortunately, three weeks later Mrs. Rawlins fell off the wagon. When she did, her jaundice and swelling returned. Her son insisted that she go back to Norbu Chen.

Norbu treated Mrs. Rawlins again. This time he demanded that she remain in bed for ten days after her treatment. Again, Mrs. Rawlins improved.

Over the last year Mrs. Rawlins has been treated by Norbu five times. After one treatment Norbu insisted that she stay in bed for six weeks. After each of Norbu's "hits," Mrs. Rawlins improved. The improvement lasted just as long as she followed Norbu's instructions. Unfortunately, as soon as Mrs. Rawlins started drinking again, all of Norbu's good work came undone. But, as Mrs. Rawlins said, "That certainly isn't Norbu's fault – it's mine."

Any doctor who treats alcoholics with liver disease has dozens of patients like Mrs. Rawlins. He has heard her story and watched her course many times. He has even prescribed the same treatment Norbu uses: all that is lacking is the "hit"; most doctors don't go through the Tibetan rituals that Norbu uses (although, and we'll get to this later, M.D.s often use rituals of their own). But rest and diet are not just ideal treatment – they are virtually the only treatment for a sick liver. Doctors don't cure alcoholic liver disease; the liver cures itself, if we can persuade the patient to stop poisoning himself.

Norbu's "hits" certainly didn't harm Mrs. Rawlins. In fact, since Mrs. Rawlins' belief in Norbu's mysterious powers may have persuaded her to follow his instructions, Norbu's rituals probably helped. But certainly there is no evidence in this case to show that Norbu has any miraculous unexplained healing power.

Sadly, as this book goes to press, I've learned that Mrs. Rawlins is back on the bottle and her liver has begun, once again, to fail. This may well be the final time; she can't have many healthy liver cells left.

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Case 2, Sarah Riley

2.) Sarah Riley, a thirty-seven-year-old woman with a "whiplash" injury.

One evening in February 1970, Sarah Riley and her husband, Jim, were driving along a street in Miami during a rainstorm. When they stopped at a traffic light, the car behind them skidded and struck theirs in the rear. Sarah's head snapped back and she immediately noted pain in her neck and shoulders.

Sarah had had trouble with both her neck and her back for many years. "I'm loose-jointed," she told me. "It doesn't take much of an injury to hurt my spine. Once, when I threw my back out bowling, I was in traction for ten days. Another time I just bent over to pick up one of the kids' toys and I was laid up for almost two months. I've had lots of back trouble."

Following her whiplash injury, Sarah spent eleven weeks in the hospital, not all at once, but over the next two years. Even though the X-rays didn't show any evidence of a fracture or a dislocation, Sarah had a great deal of pain. First she had traction, which helped for a while, but after she went home and tried to do her housework, the pain recurred. She went back into the hospital for three weeks of traction and phisiotherapy, but two weeks after her discharge, her pain recurred. Finally she had to resort to a neck brace.

Then, a year and a half after the accident, Sarah began to have severe headaches and she had them almost every day. All her doctor would prescribe was aspirin, and this wasn't enough to relieve her pain. Sarah felt the headaches were due to the whiplash but her doctor didn't think so. He called them "tension" headaches.

In September of 1972 Sarah, desperate for relief from her headaches, flew out to Houston to see Norbu Chen. Norbu treated her and the next day her headaches were gone. She was even able to get along nicely without her brace. She flew home, and as Norbu had suggested, went to bed and rested for thirteen days. She had no more headaches.

Until a month later, when she slipped on a freshly waxed floor. She landed on her backside, jolting her spine, and her headaches returned. She flew back to Houston, Norbu treated her again and this time prescribed five days of bed rest. Again, Sarah was cured.

Unfortunately, five months later, Sarah backed into a parked car. This required another treatment by Norbu. Again, success.

After listening to Sarah's story, I said, "I hope you won't think me too nosy, Mrs. Riley – if you do, just tell me it's none of my business – but would you mind telling me if you have been able to collect medical expenses from these people who caused your whiplash?"

"I don't mind answering you. No, we haven't. The suit still hasn't been settled. Their insurance company is fighting us every inch of the way. But eventually I think we'll win."

Did Norbu Chen cure Sarah? There's certainly no evidence to show that he did. Her headaches, whether due to the whiplash, as Sarah insists, or to tension, as her doctor suggests, still come and go. There are few complaints as susceptible to suggestion as "headache."

And there are few patients more difficult to cure than the patient with a whiplash injury who is trying to collect from an individual or an insurance company. Doctors dread these cases. The patient is reluctant to get well until the settlement is made, for fear the medical expenses – and compensation for suffering – will be cut down drastically or even denied entirely. A friend of mine, a specialist in orthopedics, says, "The only satisfactory treatment for a whiplash injury is a greenback poultice." Cynical, perhaps, but only too accurate.

I'd be happy to send my whiplash injuries to Norbu Chen – if only he didn't charge so darn much.

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Case 3, Dr. John Smith

3.) Dr. John Smith, a fifty-two-year-old M.D with severe kidney disease.

Dr. John Smith lives in New York, where he works as a medical examiner for an insurance company. "Until five years ago," he told me, "I practiced pediatrics. But then my kidneys really went to hell and I had to give it up. I didn't think I was as alert and as mentally sharp as I should have been, and I felt it wasn't fair to my patients for me to stay in practice. The strain of working as an insurance examiner is minimal and I can handle it, but I do miss my patients.

"My trouble began ten years ago – in 1963. I developed several stones in my left kidney, and by the time the diagnosis was made, I'd lost a good part of the function in the kidney. Even with the stones out, the kidney function didn't come back much.

"Then stones formed in my right kidney. I had all the usual work-ups – parathyroid tests [malfunctioning parathyroid glands can cause kidney stones], X-rays of all sorts, everything they could think of at the university hospital – and no one could figure out why I was such a stone-former. We still don't know.

"Things went downhill fast over the next five years. I had three operations on my left kidney and two on my right. All the time, my kidney kept getting worse. Finally my B.U.N, [blood urea nitrogen, a waste product that the kidneys should excrete] went up to 240 [normal ranges between 10 and 20] and I was hardly putting out any urine at all. No one wanted to operate on me. I insisted they take one more crack at the stones in my right kidney, but it didn't work. I was damn near dead.

"So, much as I disliked the idea, I went on dialysis [the artificial kidney]. I've been on it three times a week every week for five years. I don't like it, as you'd suspect, but I get by."

"Why don't you have a kidney transplant?" I asked him.

"I've thought about it," Smith said, "but I'm not impressed with the results. I'd have to get a cadaver kidney, since I don't have a close relative with my tissue type, and the chances of a successful take are only about fifty percent. The chief of the kidney service at the university hospital is a good friend of mine – we graduated from medical school together – and I talk about the transplant idea with him occasionally. At the moment, he doesn't think it's proper treatment for me."

"What about Norbu Chen – is he helping you?"

"Sorry," Dr. Smith answered. "I should have gotten to him sooner. I suppose you think it's kooky – an M.D. going to a healer – and I guess it is; but I'll tell you how it happened.

"A friend of mine, a surgeon, is sort of a promoter of Norbu's. He has always been interested in things like E.S.P. and the occult. Anyway, about two years after I started on dialysis, I began to develop a skin disease. It was a scaly, warty eruption and it broke out on my forearms, my face and my neck. I went to dermatologist after dermatologist and none of them could do a damn thing for me. I looked like Frankenstein.

"This went on for two years. The rash kept getting worse and I was getting desperate. Then, a couple of months ago, my friend stopped by and told me about Norbu Chen. He suggested I might try him. I figured, 'What the hell – no one else has helped me, so why not.' I flew out to Houston.

"And, damn it, he has helped me. My dermatitis has improved a lot. My face is almost completely clear and my arms are definitely better. I've flown out to see him five times and I'm a little better after every visit. It's cost me a bundle, but it's worth it."

"How about your kidneys? Has he helped them?"

"No sign of it yet. I'm still not putting out more than a trickle of urine. But Norbu keeps treating my kidneys and he says he'll cure them yet. I'll call you and let you know if he does."

Dr. Smith never called back. Six months later I called him. "My rash is still improving," he said, "but my kidneys aren't any better. I guess I'll be on dialysis as long as I live."

We've already talked about skin diseases and how susceptible they are to suggestion, so I won't dwell on that subject. The point to be learned from this case is that medical knowledge certainly doesn't protect anyone from succumbing to the lure of a miracle worker: Dr. John Smith, despondent because he sees in the future only years of treatment on a kidney machine, is willing and able to ignore his scientific training and medical education and grasp at the straw that Norbu seems to offer.

Most doctors might try to dissuade Dr. Smith from seeking irrational help, but no doctor, with any compassion, would criticize him. I extend to Dr. Smith only my sympathy, I'm sorry that the straw Norbu offers him has not been more helpful.

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Case 4, Willard Hopkins

4.) Willard Hopkins, a sixty-eight-year-old man with skin cancer.

In the fall of 1971 Mr. Hopkins developed a rough spot on the skin of his neck, just below his left ear. He ignored it, thinking he might have nicked himself while shaving, but when it hadn't healed after three months he went to see his family doctor. By this time the rough area had become an ugly sore with rolled edges and a punched-out center. It measured about one by one and a half inches.

Mr. Hopkins' doctor told him he thought this was a skin cancer, and under local anesthesia, removed a small piece of the growth. A week later the doctor called his patient, told him that the pathologist had confirmed the diagnosis of cancer and referred him to a surgeon, who subsequently removed the skin tumor. However, when Mr. Hopkins came back to the surgeon's office ten days after his operation to have his stitches removed, the surgeon said, "The pathologist reports that all the tumor is out. Unfortunately, the tumor had grown in quite a distance, so at the bottom we haven't got much of a margin. I think, just to be safe, you should have some X-ray treatment."

Mr. Hopkins agreed, and over the next two weeks he had a series of ten X-ray treatments to his neck. "Two weeks after the treatments were finished," Mr. Hopkins told me, "my neck looked terrible. The skin was red and sore and I even had some trouble swallowing. I was a hell of a lot worse off then than I had been before I ever went to a damn doctor."

At that point Mr. Hopkins went to Norbu, who treated him four times over a two-week period. "By the time Norbu had finished treating me, my neck looked normal and I felt fine," Mr. Hopkins said. "I'd take him over an M.D. any day."

Mr. Hopkins' case history, with the exception of his visits to Norbu Chen, is much like the case history of anyone with a skin cancer.

The cure rate for skin cancer should be almost 100 percent. The only patients likely to die of the disease are those who ignore it for years. (I am speaking now of the routine forms of skin cancer: basal and squamous cell cancers, which comprise about 95 percent of all skin cancers. Malignant melanoma is another matter. I learned, from his doctor, that Mr. Hopkins had a basal cell cancer.)

Skin cancer can be treated successfully with either surgery or X-rays. Usually the decision depends on the extent of the lesion, its location, and the preference of the doctor and/or patient. Sometimes, as in Mr. Hopkins' case, after surgical treatment, the surgeon may decide that X-rays should also be used. This is done when the pathologist who examines the tumor under the microscope says that the surgeon has not removed a "safe" margin or normal tissue with the specimen. The X-ray treatment is given "prophylactically," to kill any cancer cells that may inadvertently have been left behind in the wound.

X-ray treatment of the skin invariably causes redness and swelling of the tissues. Sometimes the reaction is severe, sometimes not. The severity of the radiation burn depends largely on the X-ray dosage, but it also varies between individuals; just as some people are more likely to suffer from severe sunburn than are others, so some people are more sensitive to X-rays than others.

Usually, as in Mr. Hopkins' case, the full skin reaction doesn't develop until a week or two after the X-ray treatment has been completed. Then, unless the radiation burn is so severe that the tissue actually dies, the reaction will gradually subside.

Mr. Hopkins went to Norbu just as his radiation burn reached its peak. As Norbu treated the skin, the burning and swelling – naturally – subsided. Nature "cured" Mr. Hopkins' radiation burn: Norbu got the credit.

The M.D.s who treated Mr. Hopkins are, fundamentally, responsible for the fact that Mr. Hopkins spent some $2,000 in Norbu's care. Somewhere in the course of his treatment one, or all, of Mr. Hopkins' doctors should have sat down and explained to him what was being done, why it was being done, and what he was to expect. The swollen red skin, developing two weeks after the X-ray treatment was completed, came as a complete surprise to Mr. Hopkins. It's easy to understand why he'd interpret this reaction as a return of his cancer.

One of the major reasons why patients go to "healers" is the M.D.'s failure to communicate.

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Case 5, Janet Thorsen

5.) Janet Thorsen, a twenty-eight-year-old woman with "irregular menstrual periods."

For three years Janet suffered from irregular periods. "Sometimes I'd have periods three weeks apart, sometimes I'd go five weeks. I might even skip a month. But when they came they were always heavy and usually I'd have bad cramps. I'd actually have to go to bed with a heating pad on my stomach. And I needed codeine to get through them.

"For three years I went to doctors. I had a D&C that made me regular for five months, but then my periods started going all haywire again. One doctor put me on birth-control pills but the pills made me sick. One week every month I was practically an invalid.

"Finally, four months ago, I went to Norbu. One treatment was all it took. I haven't had any trouble since. He's a miracle worker."

What can I say? How can I argue? Norbu "cured" Janet Thorsen. She's happy and I'm happy for her. I only hope she stays cured.

Every doctor – and every woman – knows dozens of women who have had problems like Janet's. Menstrual periods do get "mixed up." Emotional people – and Janet is a very tense person – are particularly prone to menstrual irregularities. But even normally placid women, at times of stress, will develop menstrual problems. If I had a dollar for every woman whose period arrived days or weeks late because that woman was terrified that she might be pregnant, I could retire.

The stress of an operation frequently precipitates an early menstrual period. I often find that women who have had their gall bladder or appendix removed will begin a menstrual period a day or two after the operation, even though they aren't "due" for another two weeks.

And just as almost anything can produce menstrual irregularities, almost anything can cure them. Tell a woman who is two weeks overdue that her pregnancy test is negative, and her menstrual period will most likely begin that afternoon. Tell her that a pill or an injection will make her regular, and tell her in a voice and in a manner that exudes confidence, and she'll often become regular.

Of course Norbu Chen cured Janet. Norbu is as reassuring and as confident a man as I've ever met.

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Case 6, Steve Black

6.) Steve Black, a thirty-eight-year-old man with "kidney problems."

"I developed kidney problems twelve years ago, when I was twenty-six," he said. "I had a lot of burning when I passed urine and had backache as well. I'd get treatment, improve, and then get worse again. Over a ten-year period I was in the hospital seven times, without any relief. In fact, I developed prostatitis [infection in the prostate gland] and seminal vesiculitis [inflammation of the seminal vesicles, two small sacs in which sperm is stored; they lie adjacent to the prostate].

"Finally I read about Norbu in the paper and decided I had nothing to lose by going to him. One treatment and I was better. In the last twelve months I haven't taken any antibiotics and haven't been back to the hospital. And my wife is pregnant."

"Just one treatment from Norbu cured you?" I asked.

"No. It cured me for a while, but my symptoms returned. Now he treats me about twice a month, whenever I notice any burning."

"Have you been back to your doctor for any X-rays or urine examinations to document your cure?" I asked.

"No," Steve Black replied. "I don't need to; I can recognize the symptoms when they arise. I go to Norbu and he treats me; I'm tired of doctors and hospitals."

I have one patient who has a history much like Black's. He developed prostatitis in the Army and every now and then it flares up. He gets back pain and notices burning when he passes his urine. Sometimes when he's having trouble, he comes in to see me and I massage his prostate. This, supposedly, squeezes any accumulated wastes out of the gland and usually relieves the patient. It often helps my patient.

Some men will develop sore prostate glands if they refrain from intercourse for several weeks. Usually nocturnal emissions, or masturbation, will relieve them. Most of the seminal fluid which is ejaculated at intercourse is produced by the prostate gland. When the prostate doesn't get a workout once in a while, it may become swollen and sore.

I don't know what is going on with Steve Black. Since he has never had a medical follow-up, it's impossible to pin anything down; it might be difficult even with a medical follow-up because prostatitis, as I've mentioned, comes and goes frequently. But I can venture an opinion: I think Norbu Chen reassured Steve Black and gave him confidence. This, in turn, made Black more sexually active – he positively beamed when he called my attention to his wife's obvious pregnancy – and his increased sexual activity relieved his prostatitis. This is all conjecture, I admit, but I've seen this sort of case often enough to make what I think could be called an "informed guess." At any rate, Steve Black is happy and Norbu Chen is pleased.

Norbu Chen, like all other "healers," does not claim to know about Western medicine and makes every effort to treat only those patients who consider themselves doctor failures. By so doing, the healers can assure themselves that the patient will have no cause to blame them if something goes wrong. If any patient feels he has been helped at all, such as Dr. John Smith or Steve Black, he is eternally grateful to the healer.

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Also see: william-nolen-norbu-chen-syndicated.htm


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