Chapter 13: Returning to Work or School
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Another common question a Colostomist may ask is whether or not they will be able to return to their usual work after the operation. In general the answer is yes, however as with sports it is wise to exercise a small amount of caution. Heavy lifting and a job involving a lot of manual work is best avoided, and it may be necessary for you to switch to a lighter job.
Before you consider returning to work you need to receive the go ahead from your Doctor and Surgeon. If you are at all worried about your ability to work have a word with your Stoma Nurse as well as these people. With their combined advice you'll be to make an informed decision
Once you feel you can change your pouches in the work environment without too much trouble, can feel comfortable about travelling to and from work and that you have enough energy to face a full day (a bad one at that so you can face the worst with confidence) you are ready to seek permission to return.
If you think this may be a bit of a uphill struggle to honestly expect yourself to return to the deep end, why not try a little volunteer work at your local hospital. This way you get back into the rhythm of work and being needed at a certain place at a certain time. In other words it returns you gently to the work routine. This also has the added benefit of making you feel like you are doing some good for the hospital that has saved your life.
If you are claiming Sick Pay or Income Support from the Social Security people on the basis you are too sick to work you need to check with them first that your money will not be affected. Provided you get a letter written by your GP stating that the work is of a therapeutic value there should be no problems with this.
When you do return to work remember to always take your emergency change pocket kit with you as it is likely that you'll have to change or drain your bag at least once during the day. If at all possible make up a separate pocket kit that you can leave in either your desk drawer or locker. This way even if you do forget it you have this to fall back on.
Just like when you are playing a sport you want to be sure that your bag is secure whilst you are at work. You could wear a girdle or support belt around the pouch if you are worried about the possibility of the appliance working loose. Hopefully by the time you have returned to work you'll have complete faith in the everyday use of your appliance and feel safe that the adhesives can do their job without too much help.
Returning to work would be far less daunting a task if you knew your employer was sympathetic towards you if there were any problems. The last thing you need is to be stuck on a machine line waiting for your break so you can change your appliance.
If you are using your operation as an opportunity to obtain different work, or are looking for your first ever job (you've just left school for example) then it is advisable for you to go to your local Job Centre and ask to speak to a Disability Employment Officer.
This may seem a bit ominous but this officer will help you to find employers that will be sympathetic and will not tie you to your desk come hell or high water. These days there are lots of incentives that are offered to employers for taking on a disabled person and you'll qualify for these.
For example, employers that are dubious about your Stoma getting in the way of the job will be offered a six week trial to take you on. You'll be given full pay rate, and the Government will pay 45 per week of your wage to the employer. It is then up to you to prove you can do the job and that your Stoma does not get in the way of your working life - a fact you already know but your employer may be reluctant to believe. Financial benefits are a wonderful thing!
You could also be able to walk into the interview with a possible grant for the employer to upgrade their facilities to disabled standard. Check with the officer to find out what you can offer the employers.
The DEO will also be able to arrange any retraining that may be necessary.
As previously said a "Disability Officer" does sound ominous but it is worth mentioning that up until the abolishment of the Disability Register in December 1996 you would have been able to sign on the disability list. This can help you get a job, as most large employers operate a equal opportunities charter and if they do this then 10% of their workforce must be disabled. This would make you an attractive prospect to a future employer because you will not consider yourself disabled.
Even with this list now abolished you still have the chance to fill their 10% and that, combined with grants, makes you an employee to fight for!
Of course if you under perform you can still expect the same treatment as someone without a Stoma, but if your Colostomy gets in the way the employer will be sympathetic.
When you come to apply for a new job it is inevitable that the application form will request details about your medical history. This section used to send shivers down my spine! Heck, it'd be a twenty page essay!
Whatever you do, do not lie about your medical history. If you got the job and were found out the lies could lead to dismissal and if it was a particularly unforgiving employer, prosecution.
The best policy is to be concise, yet complete. Give the name of your illness and the approximate dates that this happened. Then follow this with the date of your Colostomy and any previous operations that may have been performed for this condition.
In most cases the Colostomy is the operation that cures the illness, if this is so make sure you write something like "illness cured by Colostomy." This way there is no shadow of doubt that your illness will flare up again within a few months and this removes any worry the employer may have. It could also be beneficial to state that you are back to full fitness after the operation but that you do need a little bit of understanding with toilet facilities and that a clinical waste bin placed in the toilets would be essential for you and for the comfort of other employees. A stagnating used pouch in a waste paper bin is the last thing they need to work with.
The subject will certainly be brought up at the interview, and this is the tricky bit. Whatever happens don't drone on for hours about how ill you were blah, blah, blah, trying to drum up sympathy. The employer will be bored to tears by it. Again simply say it was a serious condition and that the Colostomy was a life saving operation but finish on a positive point by saying you are back to full health and it's the best you've felt in years. Always try to drag the topic back to a good point. Employers will admire your positive attitude and if you've got the interview on the recommendation of the Disability Employment Officer it doesn't hurt to say something like you do not consider yourself disabled as the operation gave you life, it hasn't taken anything away.
When at the interview it would be wise to highlight the fact that you do wear an appliance, that at times things can go wrong and you'll need immediate access to a toilet in an emergency.
If the employer should have any doubts over your health or suitability to the job because of the Stoma you can suggest they talk to your Surgeon or GP. Check with them both before offering this, and I'm sure they'll be only too pleased to give their professional opinion on your behalf.
By following this you have been totally honest with the employer and both of you know what to expect. More importantly though it gives the employer times to arrange a proper clinical waste disposal service for the restroom/toilets so that the pouches can be disposed of hygienically and without risk to other employees.
If the worst did happened and you felt you had been refused a job because of your stoma, or worse still you were terminated because of it, talk to you Stoma Nurse and the British Colostomy Association. they will give you advice on what to do to find out if you genuinely were discriminated against. However it must be said that it is highly unlikely that you will be and that that course of action will be necessary.
If you are returning to School after your operation all of the above will not be relevant to you just at the moment, but one day it will.
Until then there are one or two things that you can do to make your school life easier. The most important of these will be arranging a little meeting between yourself, your parents and the Headteacher of the school.
Just as a prospective employer needs to be aware of their employees need for good toilet facilities in an emergency so too does your Head.
Most school toilets are similar to public conveniences with a number of cubicals (sometimes totally vandalised) with the sink and water supply well away from them. This is completely useless to a Colostomist who has a change of appliance to deal with.
As you need a toilet and wash basin together, and more importantly, privacy ask the Head if it is possible for you to use the Staff Toilets in an emergency. From my experience these are not vandalised and are ideal as they usually are a single toilet with a wash basin next to it and a lock on the door. These are usually located just off the main Staff Rest Area and this is why you need the Head's permission first. When I was at School if you were caught in the Staff Room you got an immediate detention! The school would also probably be more receprive to placing a clincal waste bin in a toilet where it is less likely to be vandalised by riotous students. :)
Secondly you may want the head to inform the PE teacher not to push you too hard or to insist you join in the contact team sports. If you are at all nervous about communal changing areas and other kids seeing your appliance (lets face it, kids can be cruel when they want to be!), whether changing or showering, then you should be allowed to change and shower in the PE Teachers changing area which like the toilets is always separate from the students changing facilities.
Whether at School or at work, your teachers or employers will treat your Colostomy with the strictest of confidence. It will be up to you whether you tell the other Children in your class, or your other workmates.