For some who have been living with a chronic illness that meant it impossible to continue in a chosen career, it’s simply heart breaking. In 2012 I graduated a Design Technology Teacher, and was excited to start sharing my passion and enthusiasm for teaching and building relationships with students, nurturing the next generation with creativity, and teaching practical skills they could use in the future. Teaching has always been a vocation, not just an occupation. I count myself lucky that I found it as many can go through life not knowing what they want to do.
Having my little boy in 2016 triggered my bowel condition Hirschsprungs Disease to turn into chronic pain and resulted in stoma surgeries during the pandemic. This meant the days of standing in front of the class were over for me. It is a dark place when you have the choice taken from you and you can’t do what you spent years training for. I speak to many fellow ostomates in the social media community about this, and some of us are teachers, health workers and whatever your occupation is, the consistency and security of being able to contribute to the household when removed is a hard pill to swallow.
Returing to work was made possible recently, and being in an educational environment has meant challenges where having an ostomy is concerned. In the past I have used disabled toilets which have been used as a dumping ground for stock. I have now learnt what to do and how to prepare for the worst situations. Here are my top tips:
Take your time - you are within your rights to ask for a phased return with the support of a letter from your doctor, and any reasonable adjustments necessary for you to carry out your job. If you are registered to a union it may be worth getting in contact with them and taking advice. ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) is an independent body funded by the government that can give you advice here.
Listen to your body - when returning to work it is easy to have high expectations and put pressure on yourself to perform as you did before. It is more likely that you will take some time to get used to the working environment and concentrating for hours at a time again. Exerting your body and mind following chronic illness can be exhausting. It certainly knocked me for six starting again despite not even having a manual job. Rest when you can and find your new pace. If you are struggling, talk to your employer and get support sooner rather than later.
Dehydration - when you see a blog about a bowel condition you almost aways see this covered. Its the most important thing to consider especially those of us without a large colon who’s job it is to absorb fluids and salt. I take a big bottle of drink to work and make sure it is with me at all times to allow little and often intake to allow for the most efficient absorption. Isotonic drinks with added electrolytes are also great to have.
Be open - now this is a tricky one as it is not for me to tell you to share with your employer your medical history, however I have found getting it out of the way upfront so they know where you stand has always worked best for me. I always make sure I tell them I have an ostomy and will require the use of disabled facilities to manage my stoma bag. Imagine my face when I found my current employer has regular toilets with a disabled cubicle and a shelf in it! Toilet lottery or what?! This way I know they won’t think I’m taking advantage and wasting time visiting the toilet more often. Maybe its me being paranoid, but I have found it breaks the ice a bit and I can relax knowing if something goes wrong with my bag I don’t need to explain it in the moment.
Radar key/can’t wait card - both available online with the radar card here and the can’t wait card here. They can be shown to an employer to support your needs and if they have disabled facilities that need a radar key you’re sorted. Its a big key and adds weight to your bunch but I don’t leave the house without it and have used it many times.
There are plenty more I could share and if you have any more I would love to hear them over at @gutsy.mum on my Instagram account. Take care and if you are returning to work give yourself a huge pat on the pack. You are amazing!