I mentioned last week that I just started a new job. I am right at three weeks into it and it has made me think about taking your ostomy with you to work. It’s a big deal.
I have had three different jobs since getting an ostomy. I had quit my job before going in for my surgery, so I didn’t have a timeline that I had to stick to in order to get better and get back to work. About five weeks after my surgery, I started to look for a job again. I knew I wasn’t quite ready to get back to work, but I figured I should go ahead and start the process since jobs don’t usually just fall into your lap these days. I ended up taking a nanny job for a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old which I started right about two months after my surgery. It was a good job to start the transition, because I had a lot of flexibility. There were only two real issues I had, which were back-to-back days where I had a leak. At the time, I hadn’t thought about bringing my supplies with me and I had to go home both days. (Why I didn’t think about that after the first day, I’ll never know.) Fortunately, the first day the kids’ grandparents were in town, so they stayed with the kids and I ran home, just saying I had a small emergency that I needed to take care of. The second day, I only had the youngest with me, so she took the trip over to my house while I fixed it up. I never even mentioned my ostomy to my employers at first, but I eventually told them just in conversation, which came about somewhat naturally since they were both doctors.
Since then, I have had two more corporate jobs. Both of them I have been somewhat open about having Crohn’s and an ostomy. I had to at my first job because I was out for several weeks having surgery and I explained a little about what I was having done, but I kept it in our section of the office. I never felt that anyone treated me differently because of it.
Once I started applying for other jobs, I found that I had to talk about it in some capacity. As I would go into interviews, I would be asked about my somewhat sporadic work history over the past two years. I would tell them, in an effort to be honest, they I had dealt with some health issues that lead me to quit my job and I eventually had to have surgery, but I am doing great and back to 100%. So while I may not have explicitly said that it was due to Crohn’s disease and that I had an ileostomy, I think it was pretty obvious because most of my volunteer experience is with CCFA and the Ostomy Association.
At my previous job, I worked so close to home that if I ever had an issue I’d just run back quickly and fix it. Now, I keep a bag of supplies with me at work, just in case there is an incident. (But a quick tip, if you ever are in a bind, I have used pieces of gauze and bandaids from the first aid kit to hold me over for a little bit if I couldn’t change it right away!)
When talking to an employer, I think it is completely up to you if you want to talk about having an ostomy. I don’t think it is any of their business if you don’t want them to know, unless somehow it becomes a persistent problem that you feel obligated to explain to them. If you do need to run home at some point, I would just mention a small emergency, but let them know that everything is alright, you just need to take care of it. I have found that most people are very understanding. But if you do want to share your experience with them, I say go for it! As I mentioned before, I haven’t felt that it changed any of my relationships (for the negative, that is).
Going to work with an ostomy can be a little scary. I don’t like having to empty my bag in a public place, but it’s something you have to get used to. Having supplies with you can alleviate some of the worry in getting a leak. Overall, at least in my experience, I don’t feel that having an ostomy has hindered me in my work in any way.
What has your experience been with working with an ostomy? Do you tell your employer or co-workers? Have any of you run into any issues?