Working Life After Stoma Surgery
Working with a stoma
One of the great things about having a stoma is that it can, in a lot of cases, enable us to be able to hold down a job, whether than be casual, part-time or full-time. This is because, in a lot of cases, it can make the difference between spending a life that revolves around a toilet and being stuck on it to one quite far from that. I mean, having the ability to poo whilst on the move, mid-meeting or at the office desk is something I would have never even thought about in my life before! Besides the inevitable bag leaks, there really is something so convenient about being able to “go” there & then!
Going back to work initially post-surgery
My permanent ileostomy, Stacey Stoma, was formed when I was 19. I hadn’t got a job to go back to post-surgery as I had never been well enough to hold a job down previously. I had managed, with great difficulty, to complete my National Diploma in Children’s Care, Learning & Development a few months before my surgery. I did it, none the less, & achieved triple distinction. Let’s face it, I was that disciplined (which worked to my detriment sometimes) that I refused to go to A & E with my Dad until I had completed all the coursework to that standard. I remember being so poorly & demanding an agreement with my Dad that I wouldn’t let him take me to A & E until he had driven me over to college to hand in my last pieces of work to complete the course.
From speaking to people & knowing what I know of living with a stoma, going back to work is something very personal to the individual which will need to be catered for on that basis specific to that one person. There are a lot of elements to consider such as the job type/nature, how the surgery is being done & discussions to be had with those close to you (professionally & non-professionally). More physically demanding jobs will require more easing back into things with amended duties more than likely, along with the right stoma support wear, & whether surgery has to be done keyhole or open will also need to be taken on board. This is because healing times are different in both cases, therefore usually requiring different lengths of recovery. There are also other factors that can influence this recovery period.
I would recommend being open & honest with your boss & colleagues (where you feel telling them will help you, I’m not saying you HAVE to tell anyone or everyone!) It’s nice to hear from a lot of people I have spoken to about how accommodating a lot of employers are. I speak about this later on in this blog post.
How do you deal with day to day office life?
I work as an accounts assistant Monday to Friday and have done so for getting on several years now. I have my own office which helps a lot with my anxiety of stoma noise & I also have access to the toilet as often as I need. I have a hot water bottle in my office which I fill up on days where I’m majorly struggling with pain & keeping warm & this helps lots.
My job isn’t very physically demanding really but I do find it very mentally demanding. Most of the time I really enjoy this.
My role also means I meet with clients, both in and out of the office. I have a number of clients which I visit regularly which mean I need to drive out to their premises.
In-office and out of office meetings
I enjoy having the ability to drive & having a chance of scenery from working in the office. Whether in or out of the office, I sometimes struggle with anxiety if my stoma is particularly vocal! This can make my job more tiring than usual & so can travelling to clients & meeting with them. When I know client visits are coming up, I have to ensure I have more time before and afterwards outside of work to rest & try to unwind (where possible). I also tend to limit my coffee intake before meetings as it acts as a laxative & I also don’t eat as much before meetings to hopefully reduce my stoma noise & output (which can add to my fatigue, unfortunately!) I usually stick to my “safe” foods with the things I do eat pre-meeting.
My stoma has been particularly noisy in one meeting outside the office, which initially made me feel very embarrassed. I explained why I may have seemed off and what the noise was and the client was lovely & soon put me at ease, ensuring me that we all have to let wind out even if it isn’t widely talked about. I was still edgy for the rest of the meeting, but not as bad as I would have been had it carried on and I had tried to keep masking over it. I felt in the situation it was best to explain to the client why I may not seem as “on form” as usual, as I didn’t want the client to take it personally or feel as if I wasn’t concentrating or didn’t have their best interests at heart.
I always tell myself that if in doubt & I am struggling, to explain to the client or people in that situation. Most people will react in an understanding way, and the ones that don’t are not the sort of people you want to be bothering with (where you can help it!)
As I mentioned further above, I do recommend being honest & open with those you work with (where the situation means you may have to and/or where you feel it may help you). This way, people are best equipped with what is needed to try to understand your condition & to know how to help you on your bad days or why you may not seem your “normal” self.
I work in a company where my Dad is one of the directors and my Mum also works there part-time, so I am lucky in the sense that a lot of people at work knew about what I have gone through so far in my life before I started working there having known my parents for many years.
Work are understanding, flexible and trusting with me when I go through my bad periods where my hospital appointments may suddenly increase for a period of time. This understanding makes living and working with a chronic illness a lot less stressful. The people I work more closely with every day are also great at listening when I feel I need to talk about my issues & are always willing to help make things a little easier & help me where I need it.
Remember that even though I feel it is best to be open and honest, you may have to adapt your explanations for different people. Some people may have no knowledge of bowel disease, and in other aspects, some people may not cope well with guts or gore! A lot of the time I would go with your gut (the bit that works!) or failing that go with what your heart is telling you. If you feel the situation is best addressed in a certain way deep down and you’ve reasoned with yourself as to why then go with it. If in doubt, speak to a colleague close to you that you trust if you can.
Regardless of who you choose to tell at work (or anywhere) and don’t, it is important to remember that you are NOT your stoma. You HAVE one. I am not Amy the accounts assistant with a stoma bag, I am Amy who is an accounts assistant and has a stoma bag. There is a difference, even if it seems subtle.
As I always say, you own your bag, it doesn’t own you (where possible – I understand we all have limitations out of our control!)
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