As Michelle Steffens, my childhood and early years were a struggle due to a congenital disability, constantly feeling sick, and multiple car accidents.
My earliest memories were having an upset stomach and going to the eye doctor for a congenital disability that caused me to suppress the vision in my left eye. I was one of those kids whose eyes were turned out, and you never knew where I was looking. The eye doctor would place a patch over my right eye, forcing my left to see. I remember suffering from intense nausea, irritability, and dizziness throughout my childhood. I also found it very difficult to read and play sports, which left me frustrated and self-conscious at a young age.
I also felt very sick after drinking milk and eating dairy products, so my parents gave me carnation instant milk while my older siblings enjoyed cow’s milk. Because my father was diabetic, we didn’t have sugar or soda; I usually just drank water.
At age 16, I was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous melanoma spot on my left knee, where I had a scar that didn’t heal well from childhood. Surgery to remove an area of skin large enough to clear the margins was successful, and I have had no further skin cancer recurrence. This wake-up call encouraged me to improve my diet dramatically.
At age 18, I underwent my first of two eye surgeries to correct the eye muscles from the congenital disability. Because my brain suppressed my left eye’s vision, I continued to see only out of my right eye after the surgery. I then began four years of physical therapy to teach my brain how to work with the left eye. Again, I was suffering from intense nausea, dizziness, and frustration caused by the physical therapy exercises. At age 21, I had the second eye surgery on my right eye, and for the first time in my life, I saw naturally out of both eyes and had depth perception.
At age 19, I was involved in a car accident where I was rear-ended at an impact of 45 miles per hour. My chin hit the steering wheel, and I injured my jaw bone. My right foot was on the brake, so I ended up taking the full impact on my right leg and jamming the hip bone into the socket.
Immediately I suffered migraine headaches, neck pain, and back pain. The MRI’s revealed that I had degenerative disc disease that runs in my family. I needed six-hours of reconstructive jaw surgery. The surgeon told me I had the jaw joint of a 70-year-old woman, and he had never seen that much degeneration in someone my age.
My older brother had already undergone two back surgeries, and I could see where I was heading if I didn’t figure out the reason this was happening and what to do about it.
I was born in 1969 and grew up in the 1970s and 1980s before the Internet. I started to visit my local health food store in the early 1990s to read their reference books and learn about supplements that could improve my health.
At age 20, I decided to remove sugar, dairy, and most bread products from my diet because I thought it contributed to my bone and connective tissue inflammation. I learned that the antacid medications and proton pump inhibitors I had been on for over 10 years likely caused poor absorption of minerals in my diet, further contributing to bone and disc degeneration. With my new diet of low inflammatory foods, the constant stomach pain and acid reflux went away, and I was finally able to discontinue the digestive medications.
I added a few supplements every week until I remember counting a total of 26 capsules daily. I wouldn’t say I liked taking so many supplements but was willing to take them as an alternative, and I was able to get off all the prescription medications and start to self-heal.
Then at age 25, I was driving down US HYW 19 in Clearwater, FL, at 65 mph when two cars flew across the median and hit my SUV head-on. I remember the accident so vividly – time slowed down, and I said to myself, “why are these cars coming parking on the median? – Oh, they aren’t parking, they are coming right at me” then I turned to my son Michael, who was almost 2 years old, sitting in his booster seat next to me. I remember saying to myself, “I think this is the last time I am going to see you.” I braced for the impact to prevent hitting the steering wheel again and ended up bending it slightly. One of the cars (another SUV like mine) was changing lanes and didn’t see the smaller car in his blind spot. Their tires collided, sending both of them spinning out over the raised median. The car I hit was airborne. His right rear tire hit my hood, and I watched it stop just before my windshield. Flipping fully, it landed upside down right in front of my car. The police officer said if the SUV that hit me had been six inches higher, I would have taken my last breath.
Because the impact was over 100 miles per hour, I suffered a closed head injury misdiagnosed at the hospital. My body went into shock instantly, and my blood pressure fluctuated around 140/110, with the diastolic number staying over 100 constantly. My heart rate became very irregular, and I could only sleep three to four hours a night. And even though I was only 25, I suffered from severe hot flashes with night sweats and now mildly stuttered, which I had never done before. I had panic attacks every night while attempting to sleep. My body felt as if it was shaking inside 24 hours a day. I couldn’t focus, and when I tried to go back to work after two weeks I quickly realized that I could barely function. The neurologist put me on short-term disability and tried various high blood pressure medications, beta-blockers, and sleeping pills, all of which I responded very poorly to because they were treating the symptoms and didn’t realize my pituitary gland had been damaged.
About four months after the accident, while on disability, I met an acupuncturist who said to me, “I think I can help you.” At this point, I was willing to try anything. After three treatments, my blood pressure and heart rate began to stabilize, and I started sleeping better – around four to five hours a night, and my constant hot flashes and night sweats were reducing. I was able to return to work with an increased feeling of wellbeing in my life.
After receiving acupuncture for a few months, my progress plateaued because my body recognized I needed a new approach. I found another acupuncturist trained in China that treated many of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as evidenced by the pictures and handwritten thank you notes in his office. His experience in treating head injuries provided me with much relief. I still had all my symptoms. However, they were greatly reduced and manageable. I continued acupuncture every other week for a few years.
I enjoyed my career as an accountant; however, it didn’t speak to my soul. I decided if I could become an acupuncturist and help people as they helped me, then that would be the most rewarding career I could have. At age 29, I decided to quit my well-paying job in lower management and move across the country to go to school and become an acupuncturist. My family thought I was crazy, and my friends were sad to see me go.
In 1999, I started at the Midwest College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. I was in the last class taught by Japanese-style practitioners, and I was fortunate enough to learn Japanese and Chinese styles. My internship supervisor recommended taking classes with Kiiko Matsumoto, the master in palpation based acupuncture in the US.
In my third and final year of acupuncture school, I realized I was taught what was needed to pass the national boards and not enough to provide highly effective treatments. I decided to study with Kiiko Matsumoto and Bob Flaws and began creating a style that ensured a positive response before inserting the acupuncture needles.
After years of always checking and double-checking my work as an accountant, it came naturally for me to do the same as an acupuncturist. I relied on feedback from the patient’s body to guide the treatment process and ensure lasting benefits.
After finishing school in 2002, I moved to Madison, Wisconsin, because the community was open to acupuncture, and it was a great place to raise a family. Even though I was new to the area, my practice grew quickly from referrals, and within two years, my schedule was full because of my unique treatment style. After six weeks in Madison, I was set up on a blind date with my now-husband, Page Buchanan. To find out about this next phase of my life, please watch the about Michelle Buchanan video.