Tips on how to prepare to return to work and discussing your stoma with your employer

Louise: Returning to work

Tips on how to prepare to return to work and discussing your stoma with your employer

Returning to work after stoma surgery can be a challenging and anxious time.

Whilst you have been cleared by your medical team to return to your normal lifestyle, your mind tends to overthink everything relating to leaving your comfort zone of ‘post-surgery’ and back into the real work of being a functioning member of society.

Louise kindly shares her story and some handy tips:

I made my return to work in May of 2017. I had spent over a year off work: dealing with my medical condition and then the subsequent two surgeries; the final one which resulted in my stoma being created. I took my time recovering from all aspects of my surgery, a luxury I know many can’t or don’t afford to have. I started a brand-new job, in a new location; so not only was I returning to work but I was also relocating.

From the beginning of the application process, I was honest and open about my stoma. Thankfully, they were very supportive about it and asked of ways in which I could be best supported. I by no means get special treatment but I can work and manage my IBD and my stoma to the best of my ability. My strong will and stubbornness means that I try very hard to do the same as everyone else, despite knowing that I suffer massively with fatigue and pain.

I’ve not had a negative reaction to my stoma or my condition.

I initially worried a lot about what everyone would think of me, as they probably didn’t know who I was nor why I decided on this role. But I’ve always actively discussed my IBD and having a stoma hasn’t changed that any aspect of that; I still wanted to find a voice to explain what living with an invisible and chronic illness was like, as well as living with a stoma. So, I didn’t stop talking about any of it at work. I didn’t want to hide, so I learnt to gauge people’s reaction and whether to say more or to let them come to me and ask things. And for the most part, I’ve not had a negative reaction to my stoma or my condition.

With regards to my job; I have access the disabled toilet on frequent basis, I can take time out to change my appliance which is comforting to know, and had only happened a handful of times in the time I’ve been there. I am allowed time for my hospital appointments and my medication schedule too.

About four months in, I had a sudden and big flare up of my Crohn’s Disease. I was admitted into hospital on numerous occasions in a six-week period and had a total of 9 weeks off sick. During this time, I worried constantly about losing my job and not being able to pay my bills. This wasn’t the case at all, I re-returned to work in October on a light work schedule and worked my way back to being full time. The support and understanding I received then, and continue to receive from my employer and colleagues is humbling.

I won’t lie; working whilst having a stoma isn’t always perfect and it is challenging at times. I’ve found that my biggest obstacle is that I still feel guilty for being off sick; I know I am not to blame for missing time at work or for being unwell. It happens to us all, just more frequently to me. Having an employer who is understanding and caring about your circumstances is helpful but also having colleagues who also understand helps too. It means that they notice when I am missing and notice when I am unwell at work too. Having people on my side, it makes life a little bit easier.

So here are my tips about returning to work:

Be honest and open about it, as much as you feel you can.

If you are returning to your former role, ensure you can return on a phased time scale adjusting to a new routine is difficult to begin with.

Nerves about returning are normal!

Pack extra supplies so you can change your appliance at work.

Speak up if you need help; there is no shame in it, and suffering in silence will only hurt you; mentally and physically.

Remember that you have just had surgery! Be it six months ago, a year, whatever, you have a different lifestyle now with less bowel!

Take your time to work back to full strength / capacity. A good employer should respect you and not push you too hard too soon.

It is okay to not do everything everyone else is doing. As long as your agreement with your employer makes you happy and comfortable, this should be all that matters.

Please be careful and take care of yourself. Stoma’s are unpredictable at times and things can change in hours. Be aware of dehydration, blockages and sickness.

Enjoy your new lifestyle! Enjoy your new lease on life!

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