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Hannah – Returning to work

01 February, 2017

Hannah Littlejohn

On the 22nd of June 2016 at twenty-two years old I had my loop colostomy operation. Since having my surgery my quality of life has changed dramatically, in a good way. I feel normal and with being so young I feel I have so many things to catch up on, having missed out for so many years while I was so ill.

After having major surgery, whether it’s a laparotomy or keyhole surgery, your body has gone through so much and your body is still adjusting to your stoma. I spent two weeks in hospital after my surgery and I was told my recovery could take anything between eight to sixteen weeks.

I returned to work nine weeks post op and I felt really anxious about going back. The best thing to do is speak to your employer. I am extremely lucky because my boss has been a huge support to me. I contacted my boss at least a week before I was due to come back and organised with him what days and how many hours a week I would be working. I started back at work two mornings a week from 9am – 2pm, this was gradually breaking me back in. When I returned to work instead of carrying stoma supplies in my handbag I made sure I had everything I needed in a box at work in the bathroom – stoma bags already pre-cut, swabs, wipes and bin liners. This saves a lot of time and you don’t need to worry the morning or night before if you’re going to have enough supplies. My first day back to work was pretty tiring for me. As a hair stylist there is obviously a lot of standing. I made sure I had a few breaks in-between customers. When I wasn’t busy, I had five minutes to myself for a rest. I worked on a part-time basis for at least 8 weeks before I returned to full-time hours.

My words of advice would be don’t overdo it! Give your body plenty rest and make sure you are feeling fit before returning to work. One of my fears on returning to work was ‘what if people hear my stoma when I pass wind?’ This was a big thing for me because I had a lot of wind on return to work, sometimes it would be so loud that people would look around wandering what the noise was! This was extremely embarrassing for me. My work colleagues understood, but when it came to my customers I felt that I just needed to tell them ‘oh sorry that was my stoma making a noise.’ Why should I be ashamed of having something that saved and changed my life? My aim was to speak to my clients about my stoma, some of them hadn’t even heard about a colostomy bag! I explained to them what a stoma was, and how many times a day I had to change my bag. They were so interested in my story I couldn’t help but start feeling really confident about my bag. Returning to work is a big thing after surgery but I found going back to work was my ‘get up and go’. It’s very difficult to get back into a routine after being off for so long, but going back to living a normal life was my aim and I wanted this as soon as I could get back on my feet again.

I have a few tips that I wanted to share with other ostomates. These are the things that help me through living life with a bag.

  • Be confident.
  • Speak to people about your situation. So many people have bags now it’s becoming more and more common.
  • Feel beautiful girls! Don’t feel like you can’t wear short tops or bikinis, you can! Your scars and stoma bags are there to say ‘from every wound there is a scar, and every scar tells a story that says I survived.’
  • Contact your stoma nurse if you have any issues. They are there to help. Join forums or associations and speak to people who have been in similar situations to you.

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