The reality after an ostomy

An ostomy (colostomy, urostomy, or ileostomy) is an operation where surgeons reroute your digestive or urinary tract through an opening in your abdomen. People with gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis typically undergo this procedure, and whether it’s planned for or abrupt, this surgery is life-changing and requires learning about working with an ostomy.

Your work-life balance might be interrupted, especially during recovery. Generally, having an ostomy shouldn’t stop you from working. Your doctor might discourage you from continuing to do so in some cases because your profession may involve extreme movements, which can cause complications like hernias and prolapses. 

When can you start working with an ostomy?

Everyone’s recovery experience is different. So, if you want to go back to work, it’s best to consult your health care professional first. Your doctor will most likely base their decision on the following factors:

  • Pouch management
  • Rate of recovery
  • Job type

You can take your time to recover. It’s important not to rush the process to heal completely. But if you want to make sure you’re ready for work, you can monitor your progress. Here are some positive signs:

  • You don’t need assistance with your pouch.
  • You have the confidence that you can last a day at work.
  • You’re also confident about traveling to work.
  • You know the emergency procedures for your ostomy. 

Challenges of working with an ostomy

Depending on your field of work, you may have to adjust your lifestyle. Below are possible job conditions and some guidelines:

  • Desk jobs

Since you’ll be sitting a lot for a desk job, your stoma—the surgically created opening in your abdomen, might not pose problems. But if you’ve had rectal surgery, sitting for an extended period may be difficult. Invest in a comfortable chair or cushion to prevent challenges such as rectal discomfort. 

  • Jobs with minimal movement

Stretching and bending for hours might be difficult since these actions may displace your ostomy appliance. Accessories such as belts and wraps might help. They can secure your one-piece or two-piece ostomy system in place whenever you stretch and bend. You may also wear loose clothing for a more comfortable experience.

  • Highly physical jobs

Physical jobs, like professions in the sports industry, are not impossible as an ostomate. However, being prepared for different scenarios with your appliance, such as sweating and collisions is important. 

Sweating can weaken the security of your appliance, specifically the adhesion of your ostomy pouch. On the other hand, collisions from contact sports might injure your stoma because of a blow’s impact. Doctors usually don’t recommend engaging in this type of activity. However, if you’re allowed to participate in contact or noncontact sports, you can take certain precautions to prevent loosening your appliance and injuring your stoma.

Ostomy accessories

Ostomy accessories can also help protect your pouching system like the recommendation for jobs with minimal movement. Stoma guards, for example, can minimize direct impact to your surgically created opening. It may also enhance the support of your appliance because it applies gentle pressure. Meanwhile, skin barrier strips may address the adhesion problems from perspiration. They absorb sweat and prevent roll-ups.  

Preparations for working with an ostomy

Here are some practices you can take note of: 

  • Inform your boss and co-workers about your ostomy

You don’t have to tell everyone about your operation if you’re uncomfortable about it. But giving your boss and some colleagues a heads-up can be helpful during emergencies. If they’re aware of your condition, they can assist with and prioritize your health concerns. 

  • Know your rights

Even if you don’t think of yourself as handicapped, you are still protected against employment-based discrimination in the workplace because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It considers the use of prostheses (to replace a body part) as a physical impairment. And the Social Security Act defines ostomy supplies as prostheses. 

If workplace discrimination does occur, contact the human resources (HR) department for support.

Although discrimination in the workplace may be rare, it’s still possible. So if you notice hostility or harassment from your employer or co-workers, according to the United Ostomy Associations of America, you can attempt the following methods:

  1. Contact HR and help educate the perpetrators. Let them know how the law applies to them to understand the extent of their actions. 
  2. You deserve equal opportunities with other employees. So, you may try to negotiate with your employer if you need extra accommodations like quick access to the restroom. 
  3. If you’ve tried the first two methods and still feel discriminated against, you can file charges. You may want a lawyer knowledgeable in disability law by your side to assist you with your legal needs. 

Learn extensively about your ostomy

Knowing the dos and don’ts of living with an ostomy can help you integrate yourself back to work. You might avoid emergencies or accidents at your job by doing these practices:

  • Try out different ostomy supplies and accessories.
  • By the process of trial and error, you can find out which appliance caters best to your needs—especially during working hours.  
  • Monitor your diet because food can affect some factors of your output, such as odor, frequency, and consistency. These can be hard to deal with when working with other people. Avoiding fibrous, processed, odor-causing, and gas-inducing food might prevent embarrassing situations brought by your ostomy.
  • Practice ostomy restraint. If your job demands discipline, you may want to exercise control through ostomy care. Being proficient at changing your ostomy appliance, caring for the skin around your stoma, avoiding leaks, and managing your output might benefit your work. These can prevent frequent trips to the bathroom.  

Seek support

Undergoing an ostomy might make you feel uncomfortable and unmotivated to resume your job. However, you’re not alone in your ostomy journey. Others might be feeling the same way about work. You can discuss your thoughts and emotions with them through support groups. There, you have ostomates, friends of ostomates, and healthcare professionals who can help you adjust to your new normal.   

As an ostomate, you may need to prepare your ostomy products before work. At Better Health, we can make your preparation easier. We have experts who can assist you in choosing among our wide range of supplies. Plus, we’ll handle both paperwork and insurance. Call 415-475-8444 today. 

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