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Body Parts You Cannot Speak About At Work

As has been the case for nearly every summer that the EO List has been in existence, we took a circulation break. It allows the team to have some breathing space to think about new ways to present the circulation.

During the break this year, I had surgery.

This was my first surgery. This makes me a bit of a newbie when it comes to talking about subjects like surgery. Quite frankly, prior to this, I think I was pretty good at avoiding the topic of surgery, or more specifically, body parts.

The ability to maintain privacy about your health condition at work is the bedrock of human rights legislation in this country. An employer has a right to a limited amount of information about your health status, in order to grant a leave of absence or accommodate you in the workplace. The general rule is that an employee does not have to disclose the diagnosis, only the list of restrictions or limitations.

As an HR Professional, what I have experienced in the case of people who need to take a medical leave is that they are generally pretty open about their circumstances. You don’t have to pry, people wish to tell you, especially if they trust you. They’ll say, “I have liver cancer”, or “I am having my gall bladder removed”, or “I have an ulcer” or “I need back surgery”. When they can tell you and are open about it, it makes it so much easier to plan.

There are some more touchy subjects where you might find the employee more evasive with regards to their condition. Testicular or breast cancer, a prolapsed cervix repair, prostrate reduction, varicose vein removal, haemorrhoid surgery—I would expect that anyone undergoing such surgeries will be evasive about their need for a medical leave.

I found myself in this circumstance.

In my experience, if a woman has given birth, she is less likely to be squeamish about describing an upcoming procedure or private body parts. I guess if you’ve been forced to show an audience your business, and have endured excruciating pain, you no longer have any qualms about talking about body parts. Unfortunately, I never graduated from this club and therefore have avoided these conversations because I find they are too graphic for me.

In my own case, up until the surgery there was an incredibly limited audience to which I would share facts about my circumstances, even though the problem is fairly common. To make the surgery easier, I had to take some medications that have side effects, none of which I really wished to share with anyone outside of my immediately family or closest friends. This was a problem because I continued to work right up to the surgery.

Now that I am in the recovery phase, I do find myself to be braver about talking about the circumstances. I wear my five holes as a “badge of courage”, as they say, and have even shown them to people. I’ve also written a bit about the procedure and recovery on my Facebook page, although admittedly, you have to be someone I grew up with to be a friend of mine on Facebook.

My real point though isn’t about modesty in talk about body parts themselves, it is the personal nature of some health challenges. Before this situation happened with me, I think I viewed some people’s lack of forthcomingness about their health condition as a sign they were hiding something.

Now I realize that in some cases it is because they honestly don’t feel comfortable talking about it.

Nothing like surgery to say, “OK, now I get it”.



  1. I did notice your absence, so I’m very glad to know you are back! I hope you are feeling much better now and I do appreciate you sharing your experience.

    Take good care.

  2. I have a very, very difficult time putting myself in your shoes – or anyone’s shoes – in these circumstances, mostly because I am not particularly shy about sharing anything. TMI is not ever part of my conversation. That said, I am pretty sympathetic to others who “don’t want to talk about it”, maybe because I am married to a person like that.

    I’m glad you are back and on the mend. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Wear that badge proudly! So glad you are back with us!! P.S. I’ve given birth and STILL won’t discuss my ‘business’ even if I did have to show it! 😉

  4. Bonnie, I am so proud of you for sharing this story. I know that because you are a private person that the act of even sharing this much with your readers is a huge step. I fall firmly in the middle of how much I share and with whom. Often when I am actually going through something, I clam up. But later, after some time to reflect, I usually realize that that surgery or challenge helped me grow stronger in some way. And, by sharing bits of the story then, I’ve been able to connect with employees and really help them.

    For example, I was embarassed that I had to go through IVF to get pregnant. In the end, I’ve had more women come to me for advice on using IVF and how to select the best benefit plan to actually plan for it that I’m glad I eventually shared. This is my most personal post…

  5. Bonni…

    Thank you for sharing your experience and insight with us. I too have yet to experience surgery (as an adult…the 2 or 3 when I was a kid are not easily remembered). I don’t look forward to future surgery, but I guess it will come eventually.

    I think that most people have to “experience” something in order to really say “OK…I get it now!” However, I think that it is paramount to empathize with others that may be going through a similar experience and make sure that we (as employers) make them feel as comfortable as possible…and support them.

    Glad to hear you are recovering well…and glad to have you back!!

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