Going back to work; in the driver’s seat.

Going back to work; in the driver’s seat.

My name is Keith Thomas, I am a 58-year-old bus driver from Swansea in South Wales, now living in Llanelli. Work is very important to me and I am happy that working is no longer the obstacle it used to be before my stoma was formed. After many years of illness, in 2008 I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. In 2012, my bowel finally gave up on me and I had to have a total colectomy. Prior to this, my working life had already become increasingly difficult.

All the way through my illness, I worked as a quality control inspector and then as a purchaser for a bus seat manufacturer. This was a very difficult time; I had one of the worst sickness records ever. I would always try to get to work, but due to the colitis it would happen that I soiled myself on the way. At that point, there are two options: shower and try again or just phone in sick. Unfortunately, the choice usually fell on the phone call. On days like this, I felt so ill and depressed, I didn’t know if going back to work would ever be an option. Now I know that getting back to work really is an option. 

Going back to work

After my life-changing operation, it took only 6 weeks before I went back to work, although I had to be very careful not to lift anything too heavy; a hernia was a real threat due to the opening in my stomach wall to accommodate the stoma, which left it considerably weaker than before. Although I was pleased to be back in work full-time, I was missing my previous life as a coach driver.

In the past I had spent 10 really enjoyable years doing this, but had to give up in 2004, partly because my illness was making it difficult to accommodate this kind of work. I particularly enjoyed meeting people and visiting new places…for free! Then, one day, I happened to see in the paper that the public transport company First Cymru was advertising for drivers. I decided to apply for a position and I can honestly say it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I was completely open and honest about my illness and operation during the hiring process and told how my life had changed for the better since gaining my stoma.

I work 40 hours a week as a bus driver, so having an ostomy has meant that I have been able to return to a normal life. It feels amazing: illness is a thing of the past. Realising that you came so close to losing your life really makes you appreciate it on a completely different level.

My stoma is called Homer and I want to tell whoever will listen that he saved my life. I want to show others that there is life after illness and that doing a full-time job is possible. In my line of work, I meet a lot of people and would say that about 90% of them know about my stoma. Colleagues or management don’t treat me differently because I have a disability, albeit a hidden disability. 

Going back to work after a stoma operation

  • The severity of your disease, reason for the operation, type of work and age will all play a role in how long it takes before you can go back to work
  • Generally, if you feel comfortable travelling to and from work, have enough energy and can change your pouch without assistance you can return to work
  • Those performing manual labour that requires a lot of bending and stretching may need to get advice on how to protect their stoma, for example by wearing a stoma belt
  • Before going back to work, work out how many times a day you will need to change or empty your pouch
  • Check out the toilet facilities at work before you need to use them
  • Where possible, it is useful to keep a change of clothes and all ostomy supplies at work
  • If you’re worried about odours, stoma deodorants that neutralise any smells are available 

I was lucky when I returned to work; my employer was sympathetic and accommodating. He tried to understand the issues as they arose and allowed me to ease my way back in with confidence.

We would like to congratulate Keith on winning "Driver of the year" at the Wales Transport Awards and coming runner up at the UK Transports Awards, proving that it's not only possible to go to work with a stoma, you can totally ace it!