On the Platform with Dr Michelle Hu

Tell us about yourself
I’m Dr. Michelle Hu and I am a pediatric audiologist and a classically trained Chef. I grew up in the small town of Kent, Ohio but have called San Diego, California home for the past 11 years. I am the mama of two little girls, two fur babies and a military spouse. I love being with my family, experimenting in the kitchen, gardening and exploring new places.

       

What has been your journey of disability?
I was diagnosed with mild hearing loss and Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome/Pendred Syndrome when I was 3 or 4 years old. (My preschool teacher told my mom that I would go off on my own during story time and recommended me to get a hearing test) At that time, my mom was told that I would probably not go beyond a third grade reading level.
As a result of EVAS, my hearing loss progressed each time I hit my head. This happened in 1st, 3rd and 5th grades and by age 10 years I had profound sensorineural hearing loss bilaterally.
I was fitted with hearing aids and was fascinated by the amazing auditory details of life. I could hear the birds chirping outside, I could hear the water running as my dad took a shower, I LOVED having access to sound!

I was fitted with hearing aids and was fascinated by the amazing auditory details of life… I LOVED having access to sound!

What was the most challenging aspect of that journey?
There have been many challenges during my life with progressive hearing loss, with changes in my hearing levels happening during my childhood. During my senior year of college I had another sudden drop in hearing, and woke one morning to the not being able to hear anything. I changed batteries on my hearing aids, and could feel vibrations on my skin, but could not hear anything. My mom walked into the room and immediately knew something was up. I saw her face fall as I told her I couldn’t hear.

How has that shaped your life?
When I was sitting in the waiting room of the audiologist with my Mom a few days later, my mom suggested perhaps, I’d make a good audiologist since I had firsthand experience with hearing loss and hearing aids. I was still unsure of what direction I wanted to go in post graduation, and this suggestion floored me. YES. I wanted to help others in a healthcare setting, but I’d just never had a pull to a specific field. I’d never really grown up around or knew many people with hearing loss, so I didn’t truly understand I was different, had a high level of resilience, or was uniquely equipped.
That year my hearing came back with the help of intratympanic steroid injections but I was already filling out applications with the goal to attend the Northeast Ohio Audiology Consortium.
It was during my 3rd year at College that we started to learn about cochlear implants (CI). One night I was excitedly chatting about this with my parents and they told me that I had been a CI candidate since I was young! They had chosen not to move forward since they were wary of the technology at the time and told me that I had adapted and learned how to thrive academically that they did not feel it was a necessity.
I decided to undergo pre-CI evaluations again and was implanted later that year! For the first time in a very long time I could hear my feet shuffle on the carpet, the turn signal of my car, utensils tapping on dishes and leaves rustling with the wind. I could hear and understand conversation in a dark car, on the telephone and my confidence soared. I no longer avoided birthday parties, movie theaters or other social gatherings. Cochlear implants changed the way I experienced life.

     

Cochlear implants changed the way I experienced life.

I’ve moved across the country from Kent, Ohio to San Diego, California to work as a pediatric audiologist. I don’t think I ever would have made such a big move had I not received my first cochlear implant. I did not have the confidence to feel safe walking alone at night or talking on the phone with anyone other than my parents. With my listening skills and thresholds I get to have with my cochlear implants the sky is the limit.
It was because of that situation and my mother’s suggestion in the waiting room I was able to put my feet firmly down on a career path.

What was your experience like going through the education system as a person with hearing loss?
I went to a private college in Ohio – I had CART providers, FM systems and extra time for testing if needed. Professors tried to provide closed caption videos when possible but this was early stages of having this available. I did not know anyone else who was Deaf or Hard of Hearing in my school. It was difficult! I struggled with hearing my professors when they turned towards the chalkboard, figuring out how to listen to patient hearing aids, landing the ECochG probe on the TM, learning how to be flexible with little kiddos and most of all – enunciating and speaking clearly to my patients. At the time I also learned how to pretend. I would nod or smile even if I didn’t know what was said, I would laugh at opportune times, chime in in agreement with others, etc. I was really good at getting by under the radar and I didn’t always want to draw attention to myself. To improve my speech clarity and enunciation I went back to speech therapy included palatometry therapy, wrote counseling scripts and practiced with classmates. However the biggest change in my speech occurred following my first CI activation when I could finally hear my own /s/ sounds and self-regulate.⁠ Something amazing was being able to connect with the state Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation to get support, guidance and funds for equipment or assistive devices.

About 5 years ago I had the opportunity to scratch culinary school off of my bucket list. It was THE most difficult listening situation that I CHOSE to subject myself to for a long time (8 months!). The tiled floors, stainless steel equipment, appliances, high ceilings, exhaust fans, walls of refrigerators and water constantly running were an educational audiologist’s acoustic nightmare. Not to mention, my chef/professor had a heavy French accent! But I endured. I had him wear my FM system, I constantly asked for repetition, I asked my station buddy for clarification, and I took copious notes. I messed up, I spilled things, I ruined dishes, I lost fingertips, I burned myself… AND I mastered sauces, I broke down poultry and seafood, I created menus, I plated, I garnished and it was WORTH it.

What have been the most surprising challenges you face as a parent with hearing loss, and the biggest joys of parenting you have experienced? 
I think parenting has made me rise to the occasion. Because our children mirror and follow the behaviors of who they are around most – I’m much more cognizant of how I explain things, what excuses I might use or how I want to complete something because they are always watching. It’s made me advocate for myself more – I tell my daughters “What you have to share/say it important to me – but I need some help. Can you get my attention first or make sure I can see your face so I can hear you better?” They know they need to speak up, they know they need to make eye contact with me so I can have visual cues. It’s great!”

What is it like for you to work in Pediatric Audiology?
I’ve been practicing pediatric audiology in San Diego for over 11 years now. My experience definitely allows me to relate to patients, especially teens or young adults who might not yet know how to express their feelings and thoughts regarding their hearing loss. It’s been an honor and blessing to be able to be a light of hope for parents – they see me as living proof that their child(ren) will be okay. I use the MiniMi2+ at work, I have others help me troubleshoot/listen to hearing aids/devices if I cannot.

   

Is there a single piece (or more!) of technology that makes your life easier?
I have Cochlear N7 processors so my phone connects to them via Bluetooth technology.. I also use a MiniMic2+ when needed. I have a bed shaker hooked up to my baby monitor and a visual fire alarm! I use the MiniMic2+ at work, they installed a visual fire alarm and a co-worker is “assigned” to check in with me get me in case there is a fire and I don’t hear/see what’s going on.

Michelle’s hearing aids. On the left her analogue aids circa 1987 and on the right her cochlear implant processors that have Bluetooth streaming capabilities to her iPhone circa 2020

You run your own blogsite, was there a specific moment that led you to begin to advocate in a very public way?
Mama Hu Hears is inspired as a space to share, laugh and learn about conquering life with hearing loss. I absolutely love having something unique about me that allows me to share, inspire and pay it forward. It fills my heart and soul! I also love being able to sleep soundly when I take my hearing devices off. I love that being Deaf/Hard of Hearing has allowed me to create a community that supports each other, spreads awareness, brings about amazing conversations and inspires friendships

    

I love that being Deaf/Hard of Hearing has allowed me to create a community that supports each other, spreads awareness, brings about amazing conversations and inspires friendships

What’s something about you that surprises people?
That I used to sing in my school choir, and that I’m a culinary school graduate (after I became an audiologist)

Is there something that you would like people to know about you or about people with disability that they might not know?
We are different but you could say that about anyone. Everyone is unique but everyone is also the same at the core. All the little details are what makes us special. I GET to live life with hearing loss -I GET to figure out what works for me. I could choose to suffer or I could choose to figure out how to have fun with life. I love to find silver linings!

Best advice that you would like to share with other women with disabilities?
It’s all about mindset – what you choose to let weigh you down or hold you back. I think it’s much more difficult to acquire a disability than it is to grow up with one because as a child I didn’t know any better. I just saw something I wanted to do and went about figuring out how to do it. I didn’t know or even have the idea that I wouldn’t or couldn’t be able to do something.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
I would tell younger Michelle to give more energy to herself. I worried and wanted to cater to everyone else – to people please. But it only drained my own tank. I would teach her how to advocate for herself gracefully and to not get so upset if she felt like she let someone else down/or wasn’t good enough.

I would teach her how to advocate for herself gracefully and to not get so upset if she felt like she let someone else down/or wasn’t good enough.

Do you have a way for people to connect or follow you?

@mamahuhears
https://www.mamahuhears.com/

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