Part six in a series: I am thankful for understanding coworkers

I am thankful for understanding coworkers

One of the hardest things about facing ostomy surgery was knowing I was going to be away from the park where I work for a long period of time. I had already missed several weeks due to my ulcerative colitis flare, and now I was going to be out for roughly eight more weeks. I work with a small group of people, and I knew it was going to burden my coworker’s schedules to fill in the gaps my absence would leave.

However, I had no sooner mentioned surgery than everyone was offering to cover for my programs and even switch their days off. One thing I was going to miss was a holiday festival for young kids that I usually coordinate. I tried get as much done in the brief period of time I returned to work before surgery, but ended up leaving many loose ends for my coworkers to sort out. When I was in the hospital, they sent a photo of themselves preparing for the event. They were all sporting funny faces with craft supplies hanging off their ears and trying to make it look like absolute chaos. But it wasn’t. My coworkers did a stellar job carrying out the event, and filled me in on all the details via email.

Some might prefer to not get emails from work while recovering at home, but that wasn’t true for me. I love my job and missed being there. I wanted to hear about the amazing stars that were out at the astronomy event at the park or the cool shelters the kids built at one of our nature-play programs. My coworkers frequently sent me notes to say hi, pass on well-wishes from volunteers, ask how I was doing and fill me in on all the latest happenings. It made me very happy and reminded me of the normal world that I would soon return to.

When I did go back to work and had serious lifting restrictions, my coworkers went out of their way to help. It was a bit of a pain asking for assistance with lifting every little thing, but they were always willing to move tables, carry taxidermy animal mounts up from the basement, and haul around boxes of program supplies for me. I loved it when I was carrying something really light and they still ran over to grab it from my arms.

Another difficult thing with IBD and ostomies is knowing how much information you want to share and with whom. This seems especially true at work. When I was away from my job with my ulcerative colitis flare and for surgery, I didn’t tell my coworkers much about my condition due to to fear of the stigmas surrounding it. In retrospect, I realize my reluctance to talk about it made things not only harder on myself, but also more difficult on my fellow staff members. The park where I work has a large crew of caring volunteers, and many of us are good friends. During the time I was in the hospital, these volunteers wanted to know what was going on, yet I had only given my coworkers rather nebulous facts to pass on. (I said, I have an auto-immune stomach condition. Can’t get more nebulous than that, right?)

I had told my boss a bit more information, but had asked him not to share it. I am sure it was an awkward time for everyone, and one of my few regrets surrounding my UC and surgery experiences is that I wasn’t more open about it at work from the beginning. It was silly of me not to share more. After all, if I were getting surgery on my heart, knee, or back, I certainly would have told everyone without a second thought. I work with a very compassionate group of people who would have been completely understanding and supportive. I am glad that they were so patient with me as I processed the events and finally became comfortable talking more openly. I am thankful to work with such a great group of people.

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