Life After Ostomy Surgery: Returning to Work with a Stoma

June 12,2024 |

Having an ostomy does not affect your ability to succeed in your professional life. Regardless of whether you're spending long hours in the office, doing manual labor at a construction site, or anything in between, you'll still be able to do your job. However, to make sure you're physically and mentally ready, you need to prioritize your recovery and work with your healthcare provider to navigate the changes that an ostomy brings. To help you get back to your routine, we've put together some guidelines on returning to work after an ostomy.

Are You Ready to Go Back to Work with an Ostomy?

Undergoing ostomy surgery results in a major lifestyle change, and each person handles it differently. Some individuals may feel ready to face the workplace as soon as they've physically recovered, while others may need a bit more time to adjust to living with an ostomy. Your timeline will vary based on the severity of your condition, age, and even your job type. The most important thing is being honest with yourself about when you're ready. The following checklist may be helpful for new ostomates who are considering returning to work after ostomy surgery.

Master Emptying Your Pouch

One of the things that causes new ostomates anxiety about returning to work is having to empty your pouch in a public bathroom or stall. While this can be a bit challenging if your workplace doesn't have a private bathroom with a sink, learning how to pouch in difficult situations is a skill you'll quickly acquire. You can talk to your ostomy nurse or doctor for tips, then practice at home. Please be aware that you're also allowed to use the handicapped stall and are not obligated to anyone to explain why.

Most ostomates need to empty their pouch about four to six times daily, depending on their food and water. It also depends on whether you have a closed or drainable bag. The entire system for a closed bag will need to be removed and changed, while a drainable one allows you to empty its contents into the toilet and reuse them for about three to five days.

Learn How to Travel with an Ostomy

Next, you'll want to master the art of traveling with an ostomy—even if your journey is just from home to work. Carrying all the necessary supplies for your day is essential to being prepared and avoiding uncomfortable situations. So, try to assemble a portable ostomy kit with everything you'll need for a full day away from the house. Some ostomy supplies to include in your bag include:

  • Ostomy bags
  • Ostomy pouches
  • Ostomy paste
  • Stoma power
  • Skin barriers
  • Additional seals
  • Barrier film wipes
  • Adhesive remover
  • Deodorizer
  • Ostomy scissors
  • Ostomy belt
  • Medications
  • Gauze
  • Sterile wipes
  • Disposable bags
  • Gloves
  • A small mirror
  • Hand sanitizer

While you might not need all of these things for a one-day trip to the office, it's nice to have them on hand until you get comfortable. You can pack these items into a backpack or purse and discreetly carry them around with you throughout the day.

Know What to Do Regarding Complications with Your Ostomy

You'll get to know your stoma a bit more throughout your recovery time and see how it changes as it heals. After this, serious complications are rare, but they can happen. There are also a few common stoma issues that you need to be aware of. Physically demanding jobs may put ostomates at a greater risk of a parastomal hernia, while others may experience irritation after long shifts. Regardless of what job you're working on, educating yourself on the potential problems and how you can address them will help you feel comfortable and confident at work. If you are unsure how to handle any signs or symptoms of stoma-related issues, seek medical advice from your doctor.

Consider Your Comfort Levels

Returning to work may require frequent breaks, so consider how you want to handle this before you return. Are you ready to talk to your supervisor or manager about these changes? Your boss won't realize you have an ostomy unless you tell them, so it may be necessary to ensure you get the time and space you need to handle your pouch changes. Will you take breaks as you need to rather than powering through? While your job is important, you shouldn't be putting your comfort (both physical and mental) aside.

Don't Try to Power Through Fatigue

Even if you live an active life, transitioning back to work after surgery will require time. It's a major surgery, and your body needs time to heal and get your energy levels back on track. So, if you're feeling exhausted in the middle of the workday, you may want to see about switching to part-time until you feel energized enough to make it through the day. Eating a nutrient-rich diet and getting plenty of sleep can help, but the only thing that will make you feel back to 100% is time.

Talk to Your Doctor or Ostomy Nurse

We also recommend talking to your doctor or ostomy nurse before returning to work to get their input and help. Your team will be better equipped to assess your unique circumstances and provide you with any precautions based on your surgery, recovery, and profession. During this time, feel free to ask questions or voice your concerns to understand what to expect.

Determine How You Want to Answer Questions About Returning to Work

If you've been away from work for a few weeks, your colleagues may ask how you're doing. Some may even get a little nosey and ask why you were away. While you are under no obligation to tell anyone that you've undergone abdominal surgery and have an ostomy pouch, taking the time to put together a response can make things a bit easier. You may feel caught off guard or uncomfortable discussing it in detail, so knowing what you want to say in advance can help.

That said, people with ostomies are protected under employee discrimination laws in several states. If you're feeling ostracized, harassed, or uncomfortable at work or aren't receiving the proper accommodations for you to care for your ostomy, visit the United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) page on employment-based discrimination to learn more about the laws in your area.

Tips to Help Make Your Return to Work Easier

As a new ostomate, it's up to you and your doctor when you choose to return to work following your surgery. It's important to be educated about stoma care and master some standard ostomy care practices outlined above. If you've been cleared by your physician and are ready to return to work, keep the following tips in mind.

  • Carry enough ostomy supplies with you each day.
  • Keep a change of clothes and extra supplies at the workplace (in your desk or locker).
  • Find the right ostomy clothes to help you feel comfortable and confident.
  • Use an ostomy belt for support in physically demanding positions.
  • Protect your stoma if you're working in construction or another job with physical risks.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet that doesn't upset your stomach.
  • Bring odor-control tablets or sprays to help you feel more confident around others.
  • Try to ease back into work rather than going full-time straight away.
  • Tell your employer about your ostomy to ensure you can be rightfully accommodated.
  • Don't be pressured to tell coworkers about your ostomy. Your decision to do so is a personal choice.
  • Take frequent breaks and change your pouch regularly.
  • Talk to your supervisor about remote work options to help facilitate your transition.
  • Know your rights under the American Disabilities Act.
  • Recognize workplace discrimination for ostomates.
  • Know who to contact if you feel your rights have been violated by an employer or coworker.
  • Find support through one of the 300+ UOAA-affiliated ostomy support groups.

Another great way to help you feel confident when returning to work is to order high-quality ostomy supplies from Byram Healthcare. Byram Healthcare is committed to doing our part to improve the lives of those living with ostomies through convenient product delivery and a diverse product catalog. Contact us today to learn more about your options.