A medical operation that's SFW
August 3, 2012 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I am having a routine operation in December. I don't want to tell my Manager exactly what it is. I need suggestions of non-embarrassing, routine, 1-2 week recovery operations that I can cheerfully tell my Manager I'll be undergoing.

I'm having a minor bladder-related operation. Full recovery in 1-2 weeks, no outside symptoms, nothing that anyone would notice (apart from me) before or after the op.

I just don't want to tell my Manager. It's for no other reason than I will feel embarrassed and just Eww telling him.

I'm sure I'm probably under no legal obligation to tell him (I'm female btw). But having thought about this a lot, I'd far rather fob him off with a white lie than say 'It's a bladder op' or even 'I'd rather not say'. I feel that saying the latter comment would just invite speculation on his part. He's a good guy, and I have no problems with him, but we're all human, and I don't want him to even imagine a thing.

I thought perhaps appendix removal? But unsure if that has to always be removed in an emergency. Cosmetic surgery obviously out - don't think they'd allow me to take time off for that..

If it's relevant, I haven't had a day off sick since I started my job last year, and I work part time.

So, any suggestions most welcome, thank you!
posted by dimon to Work & Money (34 answers total)
I'm sure I'm probably under no legal obligation to tell him

"Probably" is not "sure". Does your employer have a policy where you have to provide documentation for any use of sick leave over x number of consecutive days? I think all of mine have. I would definitely check on this before you tell your manager anything, because you do not want to be caught lying.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 1:22 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

If any suggestions are welcome, the truth or idle speculation of what "operation" means on his part are a lot more preferable that having to maintain a web of lies. Why risk having something reflect poorly on your character when, honestly, I doubt he wants to know what sort of surgery you're getting.
posted by griphus at 1:22 PM on August 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

I'd just say, "I'm having surgery, I'll need X time off for recovery." Unless you're best buds with your manager no reason to elaborate and HR and good manners should keep him from prying.

If he does pry, just say, "Its a female thing" and let it go. Most men would rather gnaw their arm's off then discuss further.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:23 PM on August 3, 2012 [64 favorites]

Just tell him you have to have some "plumbing problems" fixed. He could take this to mean either urinary or menstrual, and any hint of the latter will keep most men from asking questions about details.

Don't lie. If you lie, you have to remember it, or play to it. Suppose in a year his wife has to have appendix surgery and he comes to you for advice?
posted by NoraCharles at 1:24 PM on August 3, 2012 [8 favorites]

I would just tell him that I was having minor surgery and leave it at that.
posted by jquinby at 1:24 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would have been really happy with "bladder operation" instead of the detailed gynecological surgery accounts I've heard in the lunchroom.

Preview: Ruthless Bunny is precisely correct.

Just don't come back with a smaller butt or larger breasts and you'll be golden.
posted by Kakkerlak at 1:25 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm having internal surgery. I'm going to need 1-2 weeks off.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:26 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've just told employers that I need to have some minor surgery, what time I need off, and any accommodation I might need. Where I live, it isn't legal to ask more.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:28 PM on August 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

No need to give details, but don't lie. Because if there are complications and you need more time off, say, to the point where you need to formally request a long-term leave of absence through your boss (and, ultimately, HR) then lying will make that process much more difficult. Just say you are having internal surgery and you need a couple weeks.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:30 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The thing is, if you say for example that you're having your gallbladder out (almost-outpatient surgery, two week recovery time), what happens if you ACTUALLY need your gallbladder out in a year or two?
Just say it's surgery, you're not comfortable sharing the details, but it's abdominal and therefore requires two weeks recovery.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 1:30 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

If he asks for details, "It's a female thing" should discourage any further inquiry.
posted by COD at 1:33 PM on August 3, 2012

Yeah, it would be WILDLY inappropriate for your manager to ask any follow-up questions about your medical procedures beyond "when will you be back" and "Did everything go well? That's nice."
Any company requirements regarding sick leave documentation should be limited to a generic note from your MD. Familiarize yourself with said requirements. Politely decline to discuss details as demonstrated by Ruthless Bunny, except even "Female Thing" is far more specific than you should ever get. He has no reason to expect to know where the problem is on your person. Any questions can very reasonably be met with a wall of "That's personal." and "I'd rather not discuss it."
Please, as a favor to the rest of us, don't allow any impertinent persons to feel comfortable asking you about your medical problems.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 1:36 PM on August 3, 2012

Yeah, don't lie. Can you write it out and give it to him in letter format? Perhaps that'd be easier than a face-to-face. Plus, you'd have a paper trail.

Just say "I am having internal surgery on XX date, and I will need two weeks for recovery per doctors orders." If you were my employee I'd require documentation for that amount of time off (anything over three days requires a doctor's note). I'm not sure if your employer will need any documentation, but it's something that doctors obviously have to do all the time.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:44 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd just say abdominal surgery. It's enough information for him to be realistic about recovery time and possible complications, but not so detailed that it crosses any professional/TMI boundaries. It also gently signals that you're not interested in disclosing further details.

Hope your recovery is quick and painless as possible.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:48 PM on August 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

"Oh, I don't want to bore anyone with medical details. It's some relatively minor abdominal surgery; no big deal."
posted by SomePerlGeek at 1:50 PM on August 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

"Minor abdominal surgery" would be my phrasing as well.
posted by scody at 1:58 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

You really don't need to be any more specific than "I'm having minor internal surgery," just like how if you were taking an afternoon off for a doctor's appointment, you wouldn't need to get all specific about "oh, I need to see the gynecologist about these ovarian cysts I have, and wow, you would not believe how painful they are, blah blah blah..."

If he asks for details, just deflect and say something like, "Oh wow, you do not want the gory details, trust me!" and then you can maybe add some information like, "my doctor said I would need such and such amount of time off for recovery, and I can provide documentation if you or HR need it." Your doctor's documentation does not necessarily need to be specific either. It will likely be something like, "dimon will be under my care for a surgical procedure on [date] at [institution]. dimon will need [time] on bedrest for recovery from this procedure."
posted by yasaman at 1:59 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Contact your HR department to get a copy of the form you'll need to submit for medical leave. Those forms are usually signed by your health care provider and list the procedure. You should ask your physician to leave that description as vague as possible.
posted by 26.2 at 2:07 PM on August 3, 2012

I sympathize with the awkwardness. I got an IUD installed a few years ago and when I informed my middle aged male boss that I'd need a day off for a medical procedure, he off-handedly asked what for? My face turned bright red and I mumbled something about women's problems and now I'm pretty sure that he still think I had an abortion that day. So I understand the speculation fears.

I think just saying you are having some internal surgery would be fine, and have a few rehearsed brush offs if he tries to make small talk about it. It is enough detail to not invite speculation, while still keeping your privacy. Move the convo quickly on to the nuts and bolts, so that the lingering small talk focuses on what you need for recovery, when you'll be back in the office etc, and not the event itself.
posted by cakebatter at 2:18 PM on August 3, 2012

"Minor abdominal surgery" sounds like a good plan to me too. It's a bunch of words, one of which has four syllables, but really communicates absolutely nothing because, you know, the abdomen is kind of big and there's a lot of stuff in there. Any further questions on his part aren't going to be out of some kind of weird desire to control your body, but rather because he is either curious (bodies are interesting stuff!) and/or concerned for your well-being and you can deflect that by saying you're fine and asking about any HR-specific procedures.
posted by zachlipton at 2:21 PM on August 3, 2012

Yeah, it seems like the "female stuff" dodge would be more embarrassing and lead to more speculation you don't want than just being straightforward about "a minor bladder issue" or even "minor surgery."
posted by Occula at 2:22 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

My favorite euphemism is "having your girl guts worked on."

Alternatively, you could be having a small hernia repaired.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:25 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe I've just been lucky, but when I've needed to be out for medical stuff, my managers seemed very aware of what they could and could not ask. I would just say "I'm going to need to be out 2 weeks to take care of some medical issues," and hand over a note from your doctor saying just that. If he's up on proper manager behavior, he won't ask for anything more than that.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 2:28 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't say female stuff. (Equal pay for equal work means, to me at least, that I don't get that particular write-off in our times.)

I would indeed say "minor abdominal surgery" in case you do in fact need a longer recovery than planned.

While you don't need to say bladder if you don't want to, try not to go overboard with the "I wouldn't tell you if I were so much as having a tooth pulled" thing. You know that person, the one where a dentist is a deep personal matter. Yes, your whole body is your private business...but especially since you may need more time off, try to err on the side of mellow even if you don't feel all that mellow about it.
posted by skbw at 2:30 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't understand why most people here are giving a reason beyond saying "i'm having an operation". It's nobody's business but you and your medical team what will end up in your medical history. If you choose to divulge it to people, then that's your choice, but really, beyond a doctor's note excusing you for X amount of time and filling out forms, and if it's not affecting your work performance, if someone asks you why you were out, just tell them "sorry, that's private information".
posted by Seboshin at 2:57 PM on August 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Unless you work at a very informal company, two weeks is going to require a form completed by your doctor. So the approximate if not definitive description is going to be turned in, but when you request the paperwork you can certainly say minor abdominal surgery.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:52 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The correct answer is for you to say that you have to be out for a couple of weeks for a surgical procedure and keep it vague. If, god forbid, he asks for details, say it's a female thing. The beauty of this approach is that you're being honest without volunteering embarrassing details.
posted by Maisie at 4:01 PM on August 3, 2012

I have two thoughts. The first is that all you need to say is that you'll be out for a minor surgical procedure starting x date and be back y date, in writing. The second is that you are probably over-estimating how much thought he'd put into a "I'd rather not say" on your part.
posted by sm1tten at 4:28 PM on August 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would just keep it vague. You probably are going to have to talk to HR and submit an FMLA form, but I doubt your manager will even see it.
posted by radioamy at 4:54 PM on August 3, 2012

My department at work deals with this kind of thing all the time. As others have said, all you need to say is "I'm having minor abdominal surgery and my doctor says I should plan to take [amount of time] off to recover. What documentation do you or HR need?"

If your manager asks what kind of surgery, I'd say something like "Minor and routine, nothing to worry about. So, what kind of documentation do you or HR need?"

Most doctors these days are HIPAA-conscious and unlikely to put more detail in a letter than is absolutely necessary, so your doctor's letter will probably/should be along the lines of "dimon is under my care and will be undergoing a surgical procedure on [date]. dimon will require [amount of time] off to recover afterwards."

I don't think there's any reason to feel embarrassed about bladder surgery (we all pee, after all), but at the same time it's prudent not to discuss one's medical history at work more than is necessary.
posted by Lexica at 6:35 PM on August 3, 2012

I have a coworker you just underwent surgery. She had no interest in telling anyone in the office what she was having done. And so, when discussing the issue, she said, "I don't feel comfortable discussing the specifics of this with you."

It is very simple.

Of course, my supervisory managed to totally ABSOLUTELY cross the line and say something highly inappropriate. But you kind of can't help how people will respond. You just need to set your boundary and move on.
posted by jph at 10:04 PM on August 3, 2012

Please do not fob this off as 'female problems.' there are so many stereotypes about women being unable to handle pain, female health things making some types of work inappropriate, etc. please don't contribute to that because it feels easier than dodging or saying the word bladder.

Also, it's a pretty big time lie, as I've never heard of a man without a bladder.

Get the doctor note first, whether you officially need it or not. It will be important in your file if three years from now there's a kerfluffle and some jerk says 'Dimon took two weeks off back in 2012 for health reasons but I think she went to Jamaica!' having to go back to your doctors would really super suck at a time like that. So, keep a copy for yourself, in the event that something happens to your file.

Once you have your doctor note, bring it to your boss. You and your doctor can talk about how vague to be in the note. Keep in mind, the doctor will sign his or her name. If dr smith specializes in a particular type of bladder surgery, you will be silently busted as soon as your manager or HR googles dr smith. They will either confront you about the lie or it will pervade their opinion of you. The best case scenario is thu don't google it, but how will you know?

To recap the thread: be vague and cheerful/optimistic. don't minimize too much. This potential lie has possible big downside for you that are neat guaranteed. Vague honesty should have only the downside of minor embarrassment.
posted by tulip-socks at 5:15 AM on August 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a manager, I implore you to go no further than the phrase "medical issue." Not only is it illegal for me to ask, but this effectively cuts off discussion and anecdote among fellow employees that's both inappropriate and nonproductive. Feel free to share details with work friends out of the workplace, but I am profoundly grateful to those who avoid details!
posted by mozhet at 8:38 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much for your responses. It has really cleared my head. I hadn't thought about the possibility of being asked in detail about my untrue op later, or considered that I might genuinely need the same operation a few months later. I don't want to be caught in a web of lies.

I won't lie at all. As everyone has wisely said, it will cause all sorts of problems. I'll say it's minor internal surgery, perhaps in the abdominal area, and be cheerful, but not very forthcoming. Thank you again!
posted by dimon at 9:07 AM on August 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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