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Back to Work with an Ostomy

2017 March 20
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By Jeanine Gleba, Advocacy Manager; Jay Pacitti, Executive Director, and

Ed Pfueller, Communications Manager, United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc.

From the board room to construction to long shifts in a hospital, people living with an ostomy (colostomy, ileostomy, urostomy, etc.) work every job imaginable. Embracing a new normal in life after ostomy surgery is key to living an active life. For many, that daily norm means returning to work.

According to the American College of Surgeons once you have recovered from surgery, your ostomy should not limit your return to work. The timing of your return depends on your individual recovery and the physical demands of your job.

Whether to tell your employer or co-workers is a personal choice depending on your work situation, but some feel it helps if you require frequent breaks or other accommodations. Remember that your co-workers will likely not realize you have an ostomy unless you tell them.

Here are a few tips from United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. (UOAA’s) Facebook community and Advocacy Network.

  1. Be Prepared: In the case of a possible leak, have a complete change of your ostomy supplies as well as a change of clothes you can bring to the restroom.“Pack in a backpack, zippered tote, or small duffle bag that you can store in your desk drawer or locker.” –Jane Ashley-publishing/author
  2. Know Your Rights: You have legal rights under the American with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits employment-based discrimination. Workplace complaints to the UOAA are rare but they still occur. Read our self-advocacy resource here.“My coworkers all knew, especially of the trials and tribulations pre-op. But still, there was hostility and harassment at times.” Jacque- Retired Government.
  3. Dispose/Empty Your Pouch Properly: Investigate the best restroom/changing facilities to empty or change your pouch. Consider the use of pouch or ostomy deodorizer drops or spray, and plastic bags for disposal. “My purse contains a 1-ounce bottle of Poo-Pourri, a Tide pen, a lubricating deodorant sachet, and baby wipes.” Margie -Academia.
  4. Find the Best Clothing for Your Job: Consider loose clothing if sitting for long hours, or try a stoma belt if you have an active job. A skin barrier may be helpful if you perspire on the job. “I wear a hernia belt”- Megan-Nursing
  5. Don’t Stress Stoma Noise: If your stoma decides to speak up at the next meeting, relax. You may be the only one who notices “All bodies make sounds” Penny- Construction
  6. Hydrate: “Stay on top of your fluid intake. Don’t get distracted and have it result in an ER visit.” Heather Brigstock-Nursing
  7. Find Support: Know that you are not alone. UOAA has more than 330 affiliated support groups  that offer advice, information and support.

With some preparation and patience you’ll soon be confident in the workplace, and for many, feeling in better health than before surgery.

UOAA promotes quality of life for people with ostomies and continent diversions through information, support, advocacy and collaboration. For more information, visit www.ostomy.org or call (800) 826-0826.

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