Returning to Work after Ostomy Surgery

No matter what your occupation, going back to work following ostomy surgery will likely feel daunting and overwhelming. Thoughts of how you will manage your day and what to do if you experience leakage are naturally bound to cause anxiety. The first step is to be sure that you are ready both physically and emotionally to return to work. Also, if your job is physically demanding, check with your doctor first. The next step once you’re ready is to use your knowledge and the tips below to help you reduce any anxiety of returning to your job.

Pack a supply kit.

Even better, pack 2 supply kits, one to carry daily and the other to stash in your car or drawer at work. Some things to include:

  • ostomy pouches, baseplates, clips (2 of each)
  • deodorizing spray and/or toilet drops
  • baby wipes and adhesive remover wipes
  • a stain-removing pen
  • a packet of electrolytic drink mix
  • large resealable bags to dispose used supplies in
  • hand sanitizer and disposable gloves
  • folding small mirror
  • gauze pads (20) and medical tape
  • a multi-tool or small scissors
  • an info card with your CSWOC (ET) nurse and doctor’s contact details and list of prescription medication you’re on
  • a spare change of clothes with a ziplock bag to store soiled clothes in

Rotate your supplies every once in a while. And if you’re really stuck, remember you could always raid the first-aid kit at work for supplies and then replenish.

Drink enough fluids.

Drinking water is one of the most essential and easiest ways to maintain your good ostomy health. Urine should be light in color, which indicates you’re drinking enough water. If your urine is darker you will need to drink more fluids; if it is completely clear, you may actually be drinking too much and flushing electrolytes out of your body.  If this happens, consuming an electrolytic drink might be helpful. If your urine is very dark in color, it’s time to seek medical advice immediately.

Bathroom self-consciousness.

Try minimizing the splashing noise created when you empty your pouch in a toilet bowl by dropping a layer of toilet paper inside. Use a toilet deodorizer to neutralize odors.

Dress comfortably.

Don’t worry that others will notice the pouching system through your clothes. Having an ostomy may seem very noticeable to you, but in reality it is rarely noticed by others. Wearing loose or stretchy clothing creates less constriction around your stoma if you sit or stand for long hours. Comfortable ostomy undergarments help keep your ostomy pouch supported and flat against your stomach, allowing you to wear tailored clothing.  Wear a hernia support belt to prevent a parastomal hernia from developing as almost half of ostomates develop this condition. If you sweat a lot, using a skin barrier will decrease friction on your skin.

If your job involves heavy lifting, speak to your doctor first. Defer your return to work until a minimum of 6 weeks post-surgery to give enough time for stitches to heal.

Take lots of breaks.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in work and forget to empty your pouch. Set reminders for yourself.

Eat the right foods. 

Research the best food options and leave testing of diet changes for the comfort of home.

Tell a trusted colleague.

It’s a personal choice whether or not to tell your employer or colleague about your ostomy.  It may help you though if you require frequent breaks or need on-the-job support.

Get support.

Join an ostomy support group in your area. Having someone else to relate to who has gone through the same experience as you can be hugely invaluable and uplifting.