Excused Absence & Disclosing My Condition At Work
“Patient’s medical condition demands ready, immediate access to a bathroom.”
For the first time in my 27 years working as a public high school teacher, I arrived at school carrying a medical excuse. It was written on a medical prescription notepad bearing the official doctor’s signature.
Missing work because of ulcerative colitis
The time was early November, and I had missed another workday due to a recent colitis flare-up. I hoped my principal would understand when I handed him this excuse. In the midst of a pandemic, this sensitive soul-of-a-teacher was struggling both emotionally and physically. During COVID-19, I have found that stuffing down anxieties about returning to the classroom with students came with consequences.
Why, after living with this disease for more than three decades, had I never considered asking my physician for an excuse? So many missed days of work! But to be honest, the embarrassment of this disease throughout the years has overshadowed times of rational thinking.
It's embarrassing to talk about this condition
Who wants to talk about a poopy colon? Who wants to share that information?
“Oh, by the way, Mr. Principal, I may miss work because pain and bloody diarrhea are kicking my butt...literally.”
No, I never wanted to share those dirty details. In short, I’ve always been too embarrassed for others to know about my medical condition.
The immediate need to use the bathroom
As UC sufferers know, during times of great stress come great flare-ups. I was once again experiencing the flames and rage of my rebellious colon. It had become too much to worry about running out of the classroom unexpectedly. Besides, my principal has always told his teaching staff, “If you need a restroom break, just message me and I’ll cover your class.”
Really?? My classroom is located on the second floor, and I KNEW he could never arrive fast enough.
Whenever the starting pistol of my unruly colon fired, I had to race immediately to the restroom.
My UC screams, “There’s no time to wait! Go! Go! Go-o-o!!!”
So this past November, I presented my first UC excuse. To my principal, I humorously exclaimed, “Well, here’s your first ‘poop excuse’ from a teacher.” As he nervously brainstormed ways to help, I couldn’t help but laugh inwardly at myself for taking so long to speak my truth.
Finally speaking up for my needs
At age fifty, I’ve finally found the voice to say, “I’m a sufferer, and here’s my problem.” Now, I don’t know how other professionals handle their jobs during a flare-up. All I know is that it’s not easy living with UC in the classroom. I can’t just tell my colon to wait until class dismisses, or wait until my planning period, or wait to detonate at lunch.
No. UC commands and I respond.
What I do know for sure is that I should have spoken up sooner. Don’t withhold the struggle from employers or supervisors. As warriors, we must fight this battle armed with the weapons we have. For now, this soldier comes armed with the shield of her “poop excuse.” What a shame I didn’t select this weapon sooner.
How open are you about being diagnosed with IBD?