The New Guy

Working with a stoma

“don’t let yourself doubt the opportunity that you’ve been given or your ability to progress in your career”

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I’ve been quite lucky that my condition has never really affected my employment. One of the struggles of living with a chronic condition and its complications, is the stress of trying to avoid being out of work through illness. Thankfully, for the last nearly 15 years, I’ve worked for a brilliant, understanding company, who had a good sick pay scheme.

In January this year, I decided it was time for me to move on to pastures new. I found myself a new job, handed in my notice and started all the paperwork for my new company.

Like many people, skimming through the T’s & C’s of a contract is normal for me. However, there is one small difference that many with a chronic illness might take more notice of when joining a new company... sick pay. It was the one thing in my new contract that made me feel a little wary. But I realised that in today’s world any form of sick pay is a bonus and after all, I didn’t need to worry because I was feeling fine... right?

Contract signed, and with a cheesy grin on my face, I tackled the medical questionnaire, “this is going to be fun” I thought. I answered all the questions and gave my history, knowing that I had nothing to worry about and the reality of starting a new job was really starting to set in.

The next few months flew by and before I knew it, I was driving to my new office. Partially nervous, partially excited, my stoma seemed to be behaving itself, no nervous trumps to be heard.

I walked into the office, met some of my co-workers, got shown around and shown to my office. Day one went without a hitch, and I was already starting to feel settled in.

Day two was much the same and when I got home, that evening, my wife and I enjoyed Mac N Cheese for dinner, something that I’ve eaten many times before. As the evening went on, we decided it was getting late and we would watch TV in bed. As we relaxed, my stoma started making its presence known. I mean, wind like I had not experienced in a very long time. After many trips to the bathroom to deflate my bag, it began to settle enough to allow me to drift off to sleep.

2am came around and I started to get THOSE pains. You know, the ones that feel like someone is wringing out your guts like a wet flannel. It always starts off subtle and then gets worse and worse as time goes on and you hold on to the hope of “it’ll pass in five minutes”.

I did my usual late night/early morning hot bath treatment to try and limit the pain. It worked until I got out. Next came the cups of peppermint tea, hot water bottles and there was still no relief, and unfortunately the pain was so bad I ended up being sick.

I kept trying to reassure myself as I knew this had happened before and usually by about 6am it settles down and I can make it through the next day, all be it exhausted and as if I’ve been in a fight.

6am rolled around and I was still squirming in bed in pain. I then realised; I might have to call in sick... on my third day... at my new job!!! I had visions of the HR department pulling out my contract and going through it with a fine-tooth comb, looking for a reason to terminate my contract.

I tried to suck it up and pretend I could grin and bear it. But no, this was bad. I bit the bullet and made the phone call, and they couldn’t have been more understanding! I’m very lucky that some of the people I report into have worked with me in my previous company and so they know my history and that I will go out of my way to not let my illness affect my job.

Call completed, I spent the rest of the day trying to ease the pain and resting.

I didn’t want to be off work for most of my first week, so I went into the office the next day. A few people said that I should’ve only come back if I was ready, but I really didn’t want my illness to affect my job, especially in the first week. So, I spent the day grinning through the pain.

Friday was much the same, but as the day progressed, things were getting worse. I was watching the clock, waiting for the day to finish. The end of the workday came, and I instantly jumped in a bath, then went to cuddle a hot water bottle and my lovely wife was doing her best to help. Unfortunately, the vomiting started again, and my wife made the executive decision to take me to A&E.

In A&E, after what felt like hours of sitting and waiting, I was finally called into a cubicle where I was told I’d get some fluids and anti-sickness meds. I curled up and waited... and waited.

After another bout of violent vomiting and struggling to stand, I was finally given the anti-sickness meds and fluids.

The next few hours were a blur. My body obviously took this as a chance to catch up on hours of lost sleep. I remember slipping in and out of consciousness and seeing someone taking my blood, replacing fluids, taking my blood pressure and moving me to different wards.

I eventually ended up on the surgical ward. A place that only reminds me of being told I needed emergency surgery. I was hoping by Saturday morning they would do the rounds and discharge me. But no, they kept me in, which in hindsight was right as I was still in a lot of pain.

Sunday morning, I was feeling better and wanted out. The registrar came to see me and said that I was looking better but didn’t want to discharge me until the gastro team had seen me, ON MONDAY! I instantly panicked and said that I had to be at work on Monday morning. I already had a telephone meeting booked with my usual gastro team on Tuesday, so after a quick chat with senior staff, I was discharged.

Even though in the back of my mind I knew things still weren’t quite right, I had such a sense of relief knowing that I could get back to work. I knew that I could work from home and hopefully a call with my gastro team would give me some more info on managing the pain until it went.

Tuesday came and I had my telephone appointment. It wasn’t with my usual specialist, which I found slightly annoying, as I really wanted to speak to someone who knew me and my history. I was told the most likely cause of my pain was due to a dehydrated gut and the vomiting had only made it worse. The specialist gave me simple advice and I ended the phone call more annoyed than anything else. I reluctantly started to put some of his advice into practise and after three days I started to feel better and now, nearly four weeks later, I almost feel normal, almost...

This situation made me realise how important it is to be open with your employer, whether you’ve been at a company for a few days or years. It can be difficult to talk about your physical and mental health, but your employer should be understanding. Sometimes you may need to call in sick for just one day and sometimes you might be unwell for a little while longer, but don’t let yourself doubt the opportunity that you’ve been given or your ability to progress in your career.

It's always important you're aware of your rights and entitlements, especially at work. If you're worried about sick pay entitlement or disability rights, speak to your local citizens advice https://www.citizensadvice.org.

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by Nick Axtell

Nick Axtell

About the author

Hi I'm Nick. Diagnosed with Crohn's in 2006, gained a Stoma in 2010 and Completion Proctectomy November 2015. I have a family with 2 girls and a somewhat unusual sense of humour, which I hope will come across in my blogs. I am trying to live my life to the fullest and not let my stoma get in the way.

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