I love reading the stories of people who have changed their stories. People who face adversity – health challenges, economic restrictions, social prejudices. Or who are simply bored or dissatisfied with their life direction and want to change their stars. Last week, I profiled Francisca Morneault Rouleau, a woman with hearing loss who become an audiologist. This week, Matthew Wren of Cambridge, Ontario talks about the direction his passions and hearing loss have taken him, including pursuing a dream of becoming a Hearing Instrument Specialist.  GH

 

 

By Matthew Wren

 

At the age of 13 months, I was diagnosed with a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and received my first pair of hearing aids. At the time, my mom was unfamiliar with deafness and asked the audiologist, “How long will he have to wear them?” 

30 years later, I’m still wearing them (and will for the rest of my life) and have had both good and bad hearing loss experiences. When someone asks, “I have good news and bad news, which do you want first?”, I opt for the bad news to get it out of the way. I recall many “bad” incidents when people commented on my hearing aids or deafness.

It’s frustrating when people feel overly sympathetic simply because I am deaf. Once, I was studying for mid-terms in a university café, and a girl I’d never met before sat down opposite me. She asked what I was reading and I told her I was preparing for an upcoming test. After a few minutes of small talk, she looked at my hearing aids and abruptly asked “So, what happened?” Her question was unexpected and intrusive, and when I told her I’d been born with hearing loss, she gave me a sympathetic “awww”. This doesn’t happen often, but I find it offensive. But, confident in myself and my hearing loss, I politely stated I had to go back to my reading, took out my hearing aids and proceeded to read in my silent world.

But if there are bad incidents, there are also good ones where my hearing loss and wearing hearing aids have proved beneficial. For example, I have been able to use my hearing loss as an ice breaker to meet new people. One of my favorite things is that when people complain that something is too loud, I jokingly point to my hearing aids and say “You have nothing on me.” I live for moments like these because it’s always fun to see how people react and almost all the time, people laugh along. I can tell that a part of them feels guilty for laughing so I assure them that it’s okay to laugh and we laugh even more. When I was at Niagara College for Culinary Management, my group of friends did not treat me any differently because of my hearing loss. And because I was relaxed with them, I often used it as a punch line.

With two PhDs and a successful high school teacher in my nuclear family, education is a very important value and aspect in my life. After obtaining diplomas in Culinary Management from Niagara College and Pastry and Baking Art Management from George Brown College, I continued my education and obtained my Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Hotel and Food Administration from the University of Guelph. After 16 years of working in kitchens as a chef, I realized I wasn’t where I wanted to be and decided to make a career change, one that offered a quieter work environment and where I could interact with clients.

I decided to trade my chef’s knife for an otoscope. I am currently studying to be a Hearing Instrument Specialist at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. Becoming a hearing loss professional will allow me to relate to clients because of our similar experiences and one day, I want to open a hearing clinic of my own. I love to help people and a clinical setting would allow me to fulfill this dream.

One of my hobbies is photography and I love capturing special moments with a camera.  I’ve started a mini-business and already achieved one of my life goals by selling some of my photos. It was a pleasure to be able to donate the proceedings to VOICE for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children, an organization that raises awareness about youth and hearing loss.

Living with a hearing loss will always be a challenge but as I mature and reflect, I realize that while my hearing loss has helped shape the person I am today, it doesn’t define who I am as a person. I’m happy to be celebrating two years of marriage and pursuing my photography and a new career.

 

I live every day by this motto: “Hear only the things you should hear- be deaf to others.” Ford Frick   

 

 

Photos: Matthew Wren

Otoscope by Heine.

Francisca Morneault Rouleau is an audiologist and clinic owner in Edmundston, New Brunswick, Canada. She was recently honoured by the local business development organization, CBDC Madawaska, as Youth Entrepreneur of the Year. On their application for the award, candidates are asked to name any role models or inspiration for their work, and I was equally honoured to hear that Francisca had named me. I could not attend the ceremony but I did send a video of congratulations in which I told her that she and I were going to write her story for the Better Hearing Consumer. I hope you are as inspired as I am by Francisca’s story of life, work and hearing loss.  GH

 

By Francisca Morneault Rouleau

 

I have a mild to moderate hearing loss that was diagnosed at age twelve, when my mother thought I was saying ”what?” a little too often. The professionals attributed it to otosclerosis, but years would pass before another reason was discovered.

Because my hearing loss was mild, it didn’t cause me many problems, or make me angry and rebellious. As the middle child of three sisters, I wanted to find my own place in the world and the diagnosis actually gave me something different that was just mine. All through high school, I showed off my hearing aid to my classmates and did presentations on hearing loss and hearing preservation. I never gave anyone the chance to laugh at me about my hearing loss and my audiologists were behind me every step of the way. My loss was progressive and after five years I needed bilateral amplification. Over the years, I’ve tried many different models and brands of hearing aids and right now my favorite model is the RIC (right-in-the-canal).

When I reached 12th grade, I was determined to be a teacher for hard of hearing children. But one of my audiologists said, “No, no, no, Francisca! Come spend a day with us and you’ll see that your place is with us.” I did and I loved all that I saw: the benefit of amplification so quickly after the first fit, the technician part of the job, the counselling, and especially the one on one personal aspect.

At 24, I started my career as a community audiologist in a hospital setting. I was going into community centers and schools doing presentation on hearing preservation etc. I loved it. Earlier I mentioned that I was “thrilled” about my hearing loss, but that now changed. Working on a day to day basis with hearing loss clients made me realize how much that I myself was missing out on – pillow talk, the sound of heavy rain, etc. It was no longer great not to hear all the time. I worried about losing my hearing completely and not being able to hear the music that I cherish. In my job, I was functioning relatively well, but my biggest challenge was in assessing clients’ word recognition – sometimes I could not hear what they said. In those situations, I asked them to make a sentence with the words, which worked for me, as well as using an FM system. 

Around this time, I learned the true cause of my hearing loss. My husband and I were trying to start a family and when it proved difficult, we discovered that I have partial Turner Syndrome. Both hearing loss and inability to conceive are manifestations of this chromosomal condition. For all these reasons, although I didn’t talk to anybody about it, I found myself resenting my hearing loss.

Then, through my work, I found Gael Hannan’s DVD of Unheard Voices, with its moving and humorous vignettes of living with hearing loss. I used it for a presentation and laughed so much that I started making peace with my hearing loss again. After being a community audiologist for four years, away from my home, I decided that I was ready to go back and face a new challenge. I wanted to help people in my own personal way. I didn’t want bureaucracy to dictate how long I should have with my patients and what I should or shouldn’t do during my appointments to see them faster. I wanted to really take my time with them, to know them as a person and understand their needs, their fears and shyness – to treat everyone like I would like to be treated.

I decided that I would not only go back to my home town, but would open my own practice. That was a big challenge because I’m really shy and had no previous aspirations to own a business. Thankfully, my husband is the complete opposite – a natural business man. With his help, here I am, six years into my own business with two staff. I still love what I do.

I welcome my clients as friends, to make them comfortable enough to tell me anything, even though it may have nothing to do with their ears.  I don’t always share my personal experience; not everyone needs to know about it and I don’t want them to think that I’m using it as a selling point. Some people are not ready in their acceptance journey, so I don’t burden them with my own story. At other times, if the moment is right and I feel an opening, my personal stories can help them toward acceptance. We share common challenge, limits and benefits of hearing aids and so forth. Many of my patients trust me because I know what they are going through. I never push patients toward a specific model when comes the time to make a decision however. My specific model might not be suitable or the preferred one for everybody.

My family and clients and staff encouraged me to apply for the CBDC Madawaska award. Winning it was the culmination of many years of hard work and has given me a big boost of confidence to keep on going.  

Today, I live a happy life with my husband and our two adopted daughters who are my heart and soul –my biggest accomplishment besides my work. I have many passions and still have many dreams to follow.One of these is to write a French language blog on living with loss and, hopefully in the near future, start a bursary for students with hearing loss to help them with their education.

And that is my story.