Acupuncturist Michiah Tobin is now seeing patients on Mondays at Redwoods Rural Health Center in Redway and is enthusiastic about working there.
"On a personal level it’s a really new experience for me after being in private practice and working by myself - to have someone else scheduling my treatments and also handling my money, and so it’s really nice to have the front desk do all that work, where I just see clients," Tobin said.
"I’m appreciating the new opportunity to work in a clinic setting with other Western medicine practitioners, a whole team of people collaborating on an effort," she added. She is excited about helping RRHC develop a new acupuncture program.
Asked how she found out about the position, Tobin explained, "Peter Stern’s wife Janet told me that there’s a job at RRHC and so I called and talked to Tina [RRHC’s executive director]. It was really synergistic because I moved to Southern Humboldt four years ago and I was really intimidated to take the California state test [for licensed acupuncturists] in addition to adjusting to a new area, and I have a son who has congenital heart defects and I knew he had to have another surgery coming up. A job didn’t seem like a priority.
"I was really intimidated, scared of failure - they say the California state exam is really hard to pass. ... and I’ve been out of school for 10 years ... but I made up my mind to do it, and I passed the test, and right then Redwoods Rural was hiring, looking for an acupuncturist. I think I found out about that about three days before I got my paper in the mail saying I passed."
Tobin, who is not related to the SoHum Tobin family, was born in northern Wisconsin, in a rural area so remote that although she was born on Jan. 18, her birth was the first that year at the nearest hospital, a 30-minute drive away. Her parents owned a bar, and their home was behind the bar, but her mother objected to raising a child that close to a bar.
"I totally get that now, but as a child I thought, ‘This is the funnest place ever. Always something going on around here,’" Tobin recalled.
Nevertheless, the family moved to Ft. Myers in southwest Florida, experiencing an extreme change of climate, where they lived until Tobin was 14. Then they moved on to Sacramento. She graduated from high school in Sacramento and then went to junior college in Santa Cruz, where she studied childhood education and gave birth to her oldest son.
"I was 23 and was working in a childcare office when my best friend called and she said, ‘I’m going to go study acupuncture,’ and I said, ‘What’s acupuncture?’" Tobin said.
Her friend was inspired by a book called "The Web That Has No Weaver," which piqued Tobin’s curiosity, so "I went to the bookstore and picked up a copy and read it cover to cover. Then I called my friend back and said, ‘I’m going to study acupuncture, too.’ And so I studied acupuncture without ever having an acupuncture treatment," said Tobin.
[Note: "The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine" by Ted Kaptchuk, first published in 1984, is considered "the classic, comprehensive guide to the theory and practice of Chinese medicine," according to Amazon.com. It has gone through many editions and is widely available.]
Tobin attended a three-year program at Southwest Acupuncture College in Albuquerque, NM, while raising a small boy as a single mother. "I was really blessed about my education," she said. "I did a night program. I studied with eight women. ... our class was a nurturing, loving, caring, supportive group of women. We didn’t start with all women but all the men left," she added with a laugh. "The men left the class and went to another school, even.
"When you know the choice is right for you, things are easy; the process becomes more easy because you’re on the right path, and ever since I decided to study acupuncture that’s been true for me," Tobin said. "Not that there weren’t other hardships along the way. I had a baby with congenital heart defects who spent his first six weeks in the ICU [intensive care unit] ... but in an acupuncture sense it was easy, like passing my test the first time.
"One of my most significant learning opportunities came from my first clinic. I was a first-year student observing a third-year student. The patient had Bell’s palsy, total paralysis of one side of his face. Western doctors told him it would be months before he recovered. I saw him when he was coming in for his second treatment and he was 90 percent better. ... That showed me the power of acupuncture," Tobin said.
After graduation Tobin married, had her second son, and moved to another remote rural location, this time in the mountains about 40 miles north of Taos, near the Colorado border. In addition to working at a health clinic in Taos with a $1 per day per child day care center for its clients and staff, Tobin started a private practice out of her home.
"One of the things I treated a lot in New Mexico was chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome, that kind of pathology that all runs together," said Tobin. "I had really amazing success with one of my neighborhood clients who was almost paralyzed and was put on all kinds of Western drugs - oxycontin - and after a course of acupuncture treatment she was off all her drugs, and she could drive herself to the store. That was a big thing for her - she couldn’t get in a car, she couldn’t do her own shopping. Basically she was rehabilitated.
"Allopathic medicine takes systems and breaks them down into their smallest components - your liver, your spleen - whereas Chinese medicine is holistic," Tobin explained.
"In Chinese medicine, one reflects the whole, the symptoms reflect the state of the body. ... There’s the concept of the root and the branches. The root is the constitution, what’s causing all the symptoms, which are the branches. Western medicine looks at the branches and treats the branches. In Chinese medicine you treat the root and the branches."
Asked if there are any negative side effects to acupuncture, Tobin replied, "There are no side effects in the same way that a drug that’s misprescribed would have a side effect. In acupuncture, change is good. Even if the change is an aggravation, that’s good because you’ve made change, the qi [pronounced "chi," usually translated as "life energy"] is moving. Stagnation is what causes disease, like the qi not being in the right place, the qi stagnating."
Tobin pointed out that the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health have identified 40 conditions for which acupuncture may be helpful, including a number of illnesses or conditions that people do not usually think of treating with acupuncture, such as allergies, anxiety and depression, colds, sinusitis, and skin problems.
But Tobin also understands the value of Western medicine and refers patients to a Western (allopathic) doctor when she thinks it’s needed. "Because I have a child with a cardio problem I’m more willing to rush off to the Western doctor," she said. "I might have started out as a hardliner but life gives you this hurdle and says, ‘Your kid’s going to die if you don’t go to a Western practitioner.’"
The health of her middle son, the one with the heart condition, was one of the reasons she came back to California, as she and her husband had observed that when they visited low-altitude coastal areas her son seemed to have more energy than he did in the mountains of New Mexico.
Tobin had traveled in Humboldt when she was living in Santa Cruz, and she already liked the area. Then her mother-in-law rented a house in the Harris area and Tobin moved onto the property as well with her three sons, now ages 17, 11, and 8. "I always travel with a pack of boys," she observed.
Her oldest son is currently doing independent study through Mattole Valley Charter School, and the two younger boys attend the New Harris Learning Center.
"I always was interested in working with children," Tobin observed. Her private practice, called "Acupuncture Works" (pun intended, Tobin said), specializes in pediatrics as well as women’s health.
To retain certification by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), she has to take 60 units of pediatrics every four years.
Tobin sees acupuncture as more than individual healing. "Used on a mass level globally it could change the world," she said. "There’s all this talk about lifestyle change. When people get stagnated it’s hard for them to make lifestyle changes. But after a few treatments things are already changing, so the change becomes much easier. I love that about it."
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTO BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
Michiah Tobin, RRHC’s new acupuncturist, came to Southern Humboldt four years ago after several years of private practice in New Mexico.