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.