Dr John H. F. Shen

by Ray Rubio, D.A.O.M., L. Ac.
(Westlake Village, CA, USA)

Somehow, early in my practice about 10 years ago, I was lucky enough to come into contact with Dr. John Shen. At the time, I didn't know that this was "the" Dr. Shen, as in the famous Chinese Pulse Master and Herblist who was the inspiration for Dr. Leon Hammer's Pulse Book, and one of the major influences for Giovanni Maciocia, Jane Lyttleton, Lonny Jarrett, and many, many other leaders in our profession. I just found out that there was a workshop being offered in Berkley on advanced herbal prescribing, so I signed up and went. What an eye-opening, mind-opening, and heart-opening experience for me!

Dr. Shen was from the Menghe-Ding lineage of pre-moaist, pre-tcm Chinese physicians famous in Shanghai at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries. Like his predecessors of this lineage, Dr. Shen employed an extremely detailed pulse diagnosis system, a facial diagnosis system, and an herbal prescribing system that most closely resembled the Shang Han Lun style of prescribing characterized by very low dosages of individual herbs - often 1.5g to 3 or 6 g.

Dr. Shen was also renowned for the development of what he called "system diagnosis", wherein patients who have a multitude of signs and systems that don't fit neatly into any Zang-Fu pattern, can then be diagnosed with what Dr. Shen referred to as either "nervous system disease", "digestive system disease" or "circlatory system disease". (see chapter 14 in Dr. Leon Hammer's book, "Dragon Rises, Red Bird Flies" revised edition by Eastland Press for a thorough discussion of this topic).

In the few years that I was able to spend time with Dr. Shen in both his New York City practice, and in Shanghai before his death, I felt like I was given a glimpse into the past history of Chinese Medicine - before it became systematized and formulaic. What I learned from Dr. Shen, I mostly learned from watching him. Watching him ask questions, feel the pulse, and then tell the patient - not ask them - when, how, and why their disease or problem developed. By using facial diagnosis to determine the chronology of the disease, and using pulse/tongue and eyelid diagosis to assess the state of the nervous system, digestive system, and blood, then using probing questions to fill in the rest of the blanks - Dr. Shen was uncanny in his ability to unravel even the most mysterious and stubborn conditions. The following brief case will illustrate what I mean:

I was sitting with Dr. Shen while he saw patients during one of my trips to see him in New York City. Because Dr. Shen was quite famous, it was not uncommon for patients to fly from all over the world to come see him for help. On this particular day, a very elegant woman in her early 40's came in to see Dr. Shen complaining of violent, daily migraine headaches. Interestingly, this woman was the heir to one of the worlds most famous cosmetic/perfume families and had just flown in from Paris that day. She proceeded to explain to Dr. Shen that her headaches had started suddenly just about two years prior, and that she had been to see the best doctors in Europe to no avail. There was no family history of migraines, she had not had a head or neck injury preceding the onset of her headaches, and no medications had even been able to dull the pain even a little. She had also tried a virtual smorgasboard of alternative healers, again with no relief in her pain. Finally someone suggested that she see Dr. Shen, and so here she was.

Dr. Shen asked her some more questions about what she ate, when the pain was the worst, how was her sleep and stress levels, where the pain was localized, etc. The looked at her lower eyelid, and at her tongue very briefly, and finally he motioned for her to extend her wrist onto the pulse pillow so he could read her pulses. After spending about 5-10 minutes listening to her pulses, Dr. Shen sat back and proceeded to ask her how she was enjoying New York, where she was staying, was she going to see any shows while she was in town, etc. At this point, both the patient and I were slightly perplexed. I was perplexed because usually Dr. Shen would send the patient to the waiting room to wait while he wrote their herbal prescription, and he was just sitting there making small talk with her and not writing anything. The patient was annoyed because she had flown all the way from Paris to get help, not to chit-chat. Finally she started to weep, telling Dr. Shen that she didn't know how much longer she could live with these headaches, and that she had come to him to get herbal medicine to help her with the pain.

Dr. Shen paused, took her hand very gently in his, looked into her eyes and said that she didn't need herbs because she was already cured. I think my jaw dropped to floor, and she too looked absolutely flabbergasted. I wasn't used to Dr. Shen playing the faith-healer, so I wasn't sure what he meant. Finally, he looked at her and asked her if she had perhaps started wearing any new mascara about two years ago, around when the headaches started. She thought for a moment while she wiped her eyes, and then she slowly nodded her head and answered that her cosmetics company had launched a new mascara at that time which was formulated to be a "24-hour" mascara and be more long lasting after being applied. She had taken to wearing it at that time. Dr. Shen sat back and smiled and said that this was the cause of her headaches. He proceeded to explain that because all of her neurological and physical exams had turned up no cause to her headaches, and because there was no family history of them, and because the onset was so sudden without any head injury, Dr.Shen felt that the cause of the headaches had to be something local (in the head) causing an allerghic reaction. He said that the lower eyelid showed a chemical reaction in the bloodstream, and the pulse indicated the same thing. He then said that he also noted that when he had examined her lower eyelid, he noticed that the mascara did not come off on his fingers like it normally did with female patients. Dr. Shen advised her to stop wearing that mascara, and from that day on she was free of headaches. After that, whenever she was visiting New York City, she would make a point to stop in and drop off a present to Dr. Shen.

The patient above was only once of hundreds that I observed with Dr. Shen where he used his superior powers of observation and logical thinking to unravel very difficult cases. Dr. Shen always reminded me it is more important to understand life, than to understand disease, because disease usually comes from life. He said that being a doctor of Chinese Medicine was very similar to being Sherlock Holmes - one had to be an astute observer of even the smallest details. Sadly, Dr. Shen passed away at 90, still much too soon for myself and his other students and patients who knew him and loved him. From him I learned that all of the herbal knowledge and acupuncture knowledge in the world mean very little without the correct diagnosis.

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Where are Dr. Shen's students? NEW
by: vandrewwald@yahoo.com

Dr. Shen is sorely missed. Where are the students that he trained to carry on his legacy? Could use some help.

Dr. Shen NEW
by: Elainie

I was also a patient of the late Dr. Shen and he was one if not the best doctor I've ever had the pleasure of working with. He is sorely missed.

Dr. Shen's book "Chinese Medicine (1980) and he
by: Robert P. Echter

I met Dr. Shen through Caleb Gattegno who I knew well, and who published Dr. Shen's book, "Chinese Medicine" (Educational Solutions, 1980), which I have, and they worked together on bridging Chinese and Western Allopathic medicine. Dr. Gattegno discovered the electromagnetic connection with acupuncture points and invented the "Gattegno" graph to locate acupuncture points, that was used in clinics. I even had Dr. Shen at my apartment in New Haven, CT to see some friends as patients, on his way between Boston and New York, once.
The first time I met Dr. Shen, he did his diagnosis and told me that I had had pneumonia. I said, no, and insisted that all the time I was there. He insisted that I had, and that there was still some residue in my lungs from it, and gave me herbs for it. It wasn't until on my way home on the train that I recalled, several years earlier I had viral pneumonia!
On another occasion (I had already taken to seeing Dr. Shen with some regularity, infrequently just for health) he gave me some herbs and I wanted to test it out with my own system. The bottom line was that I could perceive a significant difference with vs without the herbs, at that time.
I have not seen another doctor of Chinese medicine since Dr. Shen, except once, one who was recommended to me by Leon Hammer.
The book is force of awareness.

A Life Saver!
by: Mary Q Rawson

At Christmastime,1993,I was 43, and I saw Dr. Shen (my brother was his friend) after American doctors said I had a sudden onset of MS. I was truly terrified, exhausted, had constant muscle spasms, stuttered, and had one leg drag as I walked. Dr. Shen listened to my pulse, examined my eyes, asked when symptoms had started, and then told me what I felt: that if I wasn't careful, I wouldn't see the next Christmas. He prescribed a mixture of Chinese herbs for me that I had to simmer into a 'tea" and sip five times a day. It took almost a year to get full strength back and to walk a mile without rest. Every month, for two years, he gave a month's supply of herbs to my brother to mail to me because I lived far from NYC, and he always asked how I felt. If necessary, he tweaked the mixture. I'm now 63, have renovated 5 homes since then, doing much of the hard work myself; I've managed stores and been constantly on my feet; and I haven't been sick or to a doctor in 20 years. I recently applied for life insurance and got the best rate because every test result was normal. I'll never forget Dr. John H. F. Shen, and I credit him for saving my life!

Blessings to Dr. Shen~who was a true "healer."
by: Kristen D.

Even though Dr.Shen passed away yrs ago, I need to write this now, as I've "just" learned of this loss, "today!" I am so, so sad!

Dr.Shen changed my life, dramatically, many yrs.ago~in NYC, in the early 1990's!
I feel terrible that I didn't know about his passing!

If I'd never met this brilliant,kind-hearted man/DR, I may never have known how Chinese medicine & philosophy, could & would, change my life~for the better!

I was 1st.told about wonderful Dr.Shen, by a family friend, as Dr.Shen was a very dear friend of her family, and she knew I had severe back pain & other illnesses, that I needed help with, since I wanted to have children.( and many Dr's I'd seen, warned me not to, due to my back problems.) I adore children & always saw myself, as being a mother one day!

Dr.Shen, at my 1st. appt.~ told me (w/ total confidence),that it was possible for me to have a child, if I truly wanted it to be possible!

I'll NEVER forget his other, simple words to me, that showed me that he honestly "cared," as NO other DR.I'd ever been to.

Dr.Shen waved me over, to be beside him (as he sat in his office chair..w/that beautiful wall-hanging behind him)and he placed his hand on my shoulder and calmly said to me, "don't worry..no more worries." He told me, "if you worry too much, you cannot enjoy life or give life...ok?" He then said, "you'll be better now."

He was right! And his words, at that exact time in my life, healed me, I believe, just as much as the treatments that I received there, for the yrs after that day!

He was a good person. I never knew a Dr. could "care," like that. I hadn't ever experienced such compassion in a Dr's office,and it changed my view on medicine (what it should be) and it also changed how I looked at my own body & my life.
(~ after seeing over a dozen Dr's of traditional, western medicine in 3 diff. states,who'd been unable to help me for many yrs.~Dr.Shen was a breath of fresh air, in the world of medicine & "healing!")

Dr. John Shen changed my life & also both of my "children's" lives! I did have 2 sons, and I do wish they'd met Dr.Shen~since they've always heard so much about him helping me & they've been helped also, by chinese medicine! (sadly, living over 2 hrs away, made seeing Dr.Shen, difficult for me~due to travel costs & the fact I'd also had babies, too~just as he said I could!)

I wish I could have seen Dr.Shen, again...I SO needed to, for my health.

I do know that there's a "Dr.Lu" in NYC, who'd done many of my treatments at Dr.Shen's & he has his own practice.(so at least he carries on the most helpful methods of healing, that I have ever found..w/ the Tuina massage/ accup.etc..)

I send my "late" blessings & good wishes to Dr.Shen & his family! Thank you for what you taught me. Thank you for your healing & caring heart!

by: Ellen Terry Vandrew-Wald

Dr. Shen saved me from a life of terrible terrible pain. There has been no one else to take his place. I only hope that he is in the world of happiness and peace. When I feel different pains, I think of the great work that he did for me and it helps. His philosophy of love and giving has kept me going and sharing. There is a blessing in my heart . . . .

Dr. John Shen a true healer and hero
by: Rita O

I was treated by Dr. Shen in NYC for many years for different ailments from tennis elbow to sinusitis. His treatments were always effective.
I am an RN and in my practice I always refer to a patient's history for information so I was amazed at how he was able to diagnose without questioning the reason for my visits

An amazing commentary!
by: Anonymous

I will be working with a protege of Leon Hammer on pulse diagnosis, and am amazed at how he understood the mascara as the woman's problem!

a graduate student of tcm

Wow! What a Gem!
by: Lisa Hanfileti, LAc

Thank you Ray Rubio for sharing your stories of and experiences with Dr. John H. F. Shen. What an amazing person! I appreciate you telling the rest of us about Dr. Shen's reminder that: It is more important to understand life, than to understand disease, because disease usually comes from life.

It makes me even more convinced of the value of apprenticing with an experienced doctor. There are so many intangibles that get passed through lineages, generations, and from teacher to student.

I am so glad to have Dr. John H. F. Shen added to our list of Heroes!

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