You recently had a colostomy and you are wondering if you are ready to start working again. Questions like: Can I work with a colostomy bag? How soon can I come back to work after having had an ostomy? How often should an ostomy bag be changed while I am at work? How far can I travel with an ostomy? Here are some basic considerations on how to approach going back to work after having a colostomy.
- What is a colostomy?
A colostomy is a surgical procedure (ostomy) that involves a section of the large intestine in which part of the colon is removed or temporarily treated. It is usually performed on patients who have colon cancer, obstruction of intestines or diverticulitis, among other health disorders.
A colostomy is not an illness. It is a modification of some internal parts of the digestive tract system to allow body waste to be discharged through an opening surgically made in the surface of the abdomen. This opening is called a stoma. With a colostomy, a patient will discharge solid waste matter (poop) through the stoma and not through the anus. For most colostomy procedures, a colostomate -a person living with a colostomy- will not have control over how or when stool is discharged and that is why he/she needs to use a bag.
- What is a colostomy bag?
A colostomy bag is a container that is used to hold the stool coming out from a stoma. It is usually available in sets called pouching systems, which include a bag or pouch and a wafer (skin barrier). Additionally, pouching systems have many accessories, among them, you can find pouch covers, different types of adhesives and ostomy belts which are used to maintain the pouch attached to the abdomen.
- Can I work with a colostomy bag?
The answer is YES! However, you must discuss with your doctor or ostomy nurse before deciding when and how it´s the most convenient time for you since every individual and every ostomy are different.
Jobs that require special conditions such as those related to weightlifting are best not taken immediately after surgery. Ask your ostomy nurse or doctor about the type of work you can do!
Either if you are returning back to work after surgery or you are entering a new job, your old or new boss needs to be informed about your ostomy, primarily because in an emergency you can get a priority. You would also need to tell some co-workers for the same reason as telling the boss. It could prove to be more troublesome for you if you want to keep it a total secret!
Your colostomy may qualify as a disability and there are some conditions for employment that could either benefit employers or benefit you. So, it is important to be informed about Disability Acts and Laws and how they can be applied to your case. Work environments may need a little adjustment. For instance, toilets often need to be provided with facilities for bag´s disposal such as clinical waste cans which you may be entitled or not if you qualify as a disabled person.
Watch what you eat! Some foods could make your stool thicker or have the opposite effect. Also, some may generate more gas and odors. These things can lead to colostomy bag leakages. In turn, they can make co-workers uncomfortable and you will feel awkward too. Try to experiment with the effect that different types of food have on your stool and control your diet at home and at work!
- How soon can I come back to work after having had an ostomy?
Once you feel you are able to handle your ostomy at home, have healed and recovered from your surgery, can manage pouch changing and your doctor has given you a green light, you can start the process of going back to work.
It is best to go slowly, meaning not forcing yourself too much, and so, it is advisable to first try short and less tiring activities. That way you can progressively get used to a full day´s job, especially if the place of work is far away from home and you have to travel with an ostomy back and forth to get there.
- How often should an ostomy bag be changed while working?
Your bag should be drained when it is one-third full at least to prevent inconveniences. However, ask your nurse when it is best to change it in your case! For pouching systems, hygiene is an important issue to keep in mind at all times. Depending upon circumstances, ostomy bags can be changed at least once while at work.
It is always a good idea to keep supplies of bags and accessories in your place of work, either by bringing them with you every day or by safely storing them in your office or locker. This will allow changing of your bag without too much of a hassle.
- How far can I travel with an ostomy?
You can travel as far as you may need. Go on holidays and stay out at night if needed. Always keep in mind to have extra supplies of pouching systems and accessories since they will be the most useful pieces of luggage when traveling or staying far from home. Live long and prosper while traveling and working with a colostomy bag!