Keith is back with his latest instalment of “Keith’s Corner”, all about his experience returning to work post stoma surgery.
We hope this blog helps reassure you, or someone you know who has any concerns about returning to work. Don’t forget our care teams and stoma nurses are always available if you need any advice, or need to place your order for your supplies – we can even deliver to your place of work! We have a wide range of support literature to help you, and a whole section on our website with advice on returning to work, which can be found here. Our “Before and After” surgery booklets also cover a wide range of topics with advice pre and post-surgery, get in touch to request your copy today.
Taking the driver’s seat
My name is Keith Thomas, I am a 59 year-old bus driver from Swansea in South Wales, now living in Llanelli. Work is very important to me and I am happy that working is no longer the obstacle it used to be before my stoma was formed. After many years of illness, in 2008 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. In 2012, my bowel finally gave up on me and I had to have a total colectomy. Prior to this, my working life had already become increasingly difficult.
All the way through my illness, I worked as a quality control inspector and then as a purchaser for a bus seat manufacturer. This was a very difficult time; I had one of the worse sickness records ever. I would always try to get to work, but due to the colitis it would happen that I soiled myself on the way. At that point, there are two options: shower and try again or just phone in sick. Unfortunately, the choice usually fell on the phone call. On days like this, I felt so ill and depressed, I didn’t know if going back to work would ever be an option. Now I know that getting back to work really is an option.
Working is no longer the obstacle it used to be before my stoma was formed.
Going back to work
After my life-changing operation, it took only 6 weeks before I went back to work. This return to work was a massive thing for me although I had to be very careful not to lift anything too heavy; a hernia was a real threat due to the opening in my stomach wall to accommodate the stoma, which left it considerably weaker than before. Management and my colleagues were incredibly supportive, and as I had an office job at this point, lifting heavy loads wasn’t an issue. My employers were very accommodating regarding any follow-up appointments with the doctor or at the hospital. In all honesty, they had been totally understanding when I was at the height of my illness and always tried to give practical support in any way they could. They provided a separate, lockable toilet for me in the factory, as sharing the rather basic facilities with the rest of my workmates was just impossible. This was a comfort to me on my return to work for reasons I don’t need to explain.
Nothing was taboo in dealing with my operation and recovery; I would always talk about the procedure and answer my workmates’ questions honestly. Honesty really is the best policy and being open really helped me and my colleagues come to terms with my new way of life as an ostomate.
Although I was pleased to be back in work full-time, I was missing my previous life as a coach driver. In the past I had spent 10 really enjoyable years doing this, but had to give up in 2004, partly because my illness was making it difficult to accommodate this kind of work. I particularly enjoyed meeting people and visiting new places…for free! Then, one day, I happened to see in the paper that the public transport company First Cymru was advertising for drivers. I decided to apply for a position and I can honestly say it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Again I was completely open and honest about my illness and operation during the hiring process and told how my life had changed for the better since gaining my stoma.
I work 40 hours a week as a bus driver, so having an ostomy has meant that I have been able to return to a normal life. It feels amazing: illness is a thing of the past. Realising that you came so close to losing your life really makes you appreciate it on a completely different level. My stoma is called Homer and I want to tell whoever will listen that he saved my life. I want to show others that there is life after illness and that doing a full-time job is possible. In my line of work I meet a lot of people and would say that about 90% of them know about my stoma. Colleagues or management don’t treat me differently because I have a disability, albeit a hidden disability.
It is safe to say that 9 years after the operation, I have an amazing life. I know I am one of the lucky ones, having such a positive ostomy experience so far, having experienced no problems or leaks worth mentioning. It can be something that preys on your mind, however; a while ago, I was driving my bus between Llanelli and Swansea, a journey that takes about an hour, when I noticed a strong smell of poo in my driver’s cab. My first thought was: ‘damn, I have a leak in my bag’. I looked down at my shirt and saw nothing, but the further I drove, the stronger the smell became. This was very confusing and a little worrying. When I reached my destination, the mystery was solved. A lady got off with her baby in a pushchair and said: ‘Sorry for the smell, he has filled his nappy’. What a relief that was!
Being an ostomate just means having a different toilet routine.
After my operation, I decided to expand my social media presence and use it to share my experiences and offer advice and support to others. It took off and started to grow rapidly, mainly due to my Twitter account. This, in turn, led to a lot of other things: a few blogs, a swimwear photoshoot for ostomy wear, charity fundraising, guest speaking at an event for Respond Healthcare about my life after illness. I even managed to appear in a 2017 calendar published by Stomawise. I take great pleasure in talking to other people about my ostomy and if it helps just one person to cope a little better, then job done. I have also become a regular blogger, and I have posted a few videos about my ostomy on my YouTube channel.
When asked why I am so positive, considering what I have been through, I reply: I have lost so many people to so many illnesses, but I am still alive and will not waste my life being negative. Please join me on my positive journey, as we have only one life and we should make the most of it. IBD is a horrible illness that so many have to live with. I am glad to say that, from my experience, living with a stoma is not the horrific thing some people think it is, and I would choose it over illness every time. Please feel free to contact me through my Twitter feed @keiththom2014 if you want to ask me anything, I’m always here to help.
I would choose living with a stoma over illness every time.
Going back to work after a stoma operation hints and tips:
- The severity of your disease, reason for the operation, type of work and age will all play a role in how long it takes before you can go back to work
- Generally, if you feel comfortable travelling to and from work, have enough energy and can change your pouch without assistance you can return to work
- Those performing manual labour that requires a lot of bending and stretching may need to get advice on how to protect their stoma, for example by wearing a stoma belt
- Before going back to work, work out how many times a day you will need to change or empty your pouch
- Check out the toilet facilities at work before you need to use them
- Where possible, it is useful to keep a change of clothes and all ostomy supplies at work
- If you’re worried about odours, stoma deodorants that neutralise any smells are available
I was lucky when I returned to work; my employer was sympathetic and accommodating. He tried to understand the issues as they arose and allowed to ease my way back in with confidence.
Have a great day,
To find out more about Keith and his ostomy experiences, check out our blog page here, or head over to his social channels:
We hope you have enjoyed this blog and found it useful. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us, or your stoma nurse if you have any concerns about your stoma, or are looking for some advice. Don’t forget we have a wide range of literature support available to you in our brochure section here, or get in touch for more info.
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