When I was about four years old, I was playing in my room and my mother called me to come and have a meal. She heard no response from me, so she headed over to where I was.
“Gerard, aren’t you hungry?”
“Yes, of course I’m hungry!” (I’m always hungry!)
“I called you. Why didn’t you come?”
“Well, I didn’t hear you.”
That was a big red flag for her because food is one of the most important aspects of our South‑east Asian culture. So when a child does not respond to “are you hungry?”, a parent’s world comes crumbling down pretty quickly.
So off we went to the audiologist. After a couple of years of tests, we were recommended a hearing aid. My mother asked me whether I would wear one. It was a beige hearing aid, which was not my skin colour, so I said no, because even then I knew that was considered social suicide at school.
By the time I was 15, we had moved to New Zealand. I was instructed to sit at the front of the class. That was the instruction – sit at the front of the class and don’t use headphones. That was as simple as it was for children with mild to moderate hearing loss. But the classmate next to me was getting sick of me asking him for repeats. He leaned towards me and said, “Look, my mum just started a new audiology clinic. I think you need to come in. She’s got these tiny hearing aids. The Government will pay for it, so give it a go.” So I went in.
What a change! EVERYTHING became louder. I could hear my shirt rustling and the shoes on the carpet. On the car ride home, I could hear my mum from the back seat. I was pretty excited. Up to that point I thought people were really good at faking that they could hear from the back seat and understand, and the same for understanding song lyrics without reading them beforehand or even understanding TV dialogue for foreign accents. That was my normal.
Through the process of getting used to hearing aids, I went from a phase where I thought I might need to work in a computer‑based job away from people to realising I actually really liked the banter and being social. Now, I could actually hear the jokes from the person at the back of the class mocking the teacher!
My journey into audiology was quite unexpected. I completed a Commerce degree and then began training to become a Catholic priest for a couple of years, which didn’t quite work out. But on the way out, I was talking to a priest about my hearing story and he was just fascinated. He helped me realise that my hearing loss experience was very meaningful and that it could be a way to help people, so I pursued audiology.
After completing my Master of Audiology degree at the University of Canterbury, we moved to Australia in 2013 where I worked clinically in different states. I later did a PhD at the HEARing CRC at the University of Melbourne. Then, in 2020, when COVID hit and the lockdown started, universities quickly dropped their casual staff. This became a new opportunity to use some of my commerce background and some of the research we had done into person-centred care to create something that I wish my family had when I was growing up: a space where audiology is explained in simple language, where you are taught how to manage your own hearing care. That’s when I launched Hear With Me. We want to shape the next generation of audiologists by showing new audiologists that you can still be a profitable clinic by focusing on people and not “sales”.
And I’m really enjoying it. There was a guy this week that came in for a pre-employment test for his dream job but he didn’t pass because of his hearing. He was pretty emotional when he found out. I was able to shut the clinic doors, get him a glass of water, and sit in the waiting room with him and just waited for him to work through his shock. That’s all we did that day. I told him to ring me when he was ready to go through the technical aspects of his hearing and what to do next. He rang the next day when he felt better and was immensely grateful for the care received. To be with people, to listen to them, to journey with them, that’s a privilege. For me, the personal and the professional certainly go hand in hand.