Working With An Ostomy
You may feel anxious about returning to work after your ostomy surgery. What will you say to your coworkers? How will you handle pouch changes at work? Are you protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act? This guide will help you navigate some of these challenges.
Returning to Work With an Ostomy
ne common concern is intrusive questions from coworkers. They may ask why you were out and what your surgery entailed, or even want to know details about what it’s like to have an ostomy.
The first thing to know is that you don’t owe anyone personal information about your health. Whether a coworker is well-intentioned or simply nosy, you are entitled to retain your privacy and enforce boundaries. It can help to prepare a few scripts in your head to help you respond to questions, such as:
- "It was just a procedure I had to get done."
- "I’m doing well, thanks."
- "That’s kind of you to ask, but I’m doing fine."
- "I prefer not to talk about medical things at work."
- "Please stop asking me about my health. It really makes me uncomfortable."
- Or the classic: "Why do you ask?"
This is not to say you can’t talk about your ostomy at work if you want to. You just shouldn’t feel pressured to do so.
What if you need special accommodations while at work, such as more frequent bathroom breaks? It’s up to you to decide how much detail you want to share with your manager or HR. A doctor’s letter should suffice, if they need documentation.
Tips for Working with an Ostomy
Plan for perspiration. If your job is physical, sweat can interfere with the adherence of your skin barrier. Talk to your wound, ostomy, and continence (WOC) nurse about ostomy products that are designed to hold up to perspiration.
Wear an ostomy belt for support if your job includes a lot of moving around. If your job involves heavy lifting, talk to your healthcare provider about extra support, such as a hernia belt.
Don’t fret too much about sounds or smells. Everyone has a body, and everyone has bodily functions. If you’re worried your stoma will make a sound during a meeting, relax — your coworkers probably won’t notice, and if they do they’ll overlook it. If you’re worried about odor or gas, empty your pouch frequently and stick to foods that won’t cause digestive problems.
Ostomy and the Americans With Disabilities Act
The ADA prohibits workplace and employment discrimination against people with a disability. It applies to all employment practices, including job applications, hiring, firing, promotion, compensation, training, layoffs and more.
Does an ostomy count as a disability under the ADA? Yes. An ostomy is considered a physical impairment that affects an activity of daily living, which requires a prosthetic to replace the function of a body part.
As long as you are qualified for your job — that is, you meet the requirements of the position and can perform the essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodation — employers are legally bound by the ADA to provide reasonable accommodations for a disability. If you feel that you are being discriminated against at work, or if your workplace refuses to provide reasonable accommodations, you may want to contact the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission to learn more about your options. The United Ostomy Associations of America lists more resources here.
Ostomy Supplies and Accessories for the Workplace
For peace of mind and practicality, it can help to keep certain ostomy supplies at work, and/or carry them with you each day. These can include:
- An ostomy wrap or pouch cover to help conceal your pouching system
- A change of clothes, in case of an accident
- Poo-Pourri or another style of air freshener, for when you’re emptying your pouch in a shared restroom
- Lubricating deodorant drops
- Extra skin barriers, ostomy pouches and supplies. Leave these in a temperature-controlled location — not in your vehicle, if they’ll be exposed to extreme heat or cold.