Chronically Employed: Restaurant Entrepreneur Creates Home-Based Business After Diagnosis

July 8, 2013

Lori Karpman, 51, Montreal, Quebec

GG:  What sort of job did you have before getting sick?

LK: I was the President of my own chain of franchised restaurants called Zyng Noodlery. I had created this chain with a partner and our goal was to create this chain and sell it within five years to a US food franchise development group. We started with our exit strategy. We knew that if we created a company where everything was done from the marketing to the manuals, recipes, private label products and everything in between that a US group would come and buy us as they like to buy a finished “business in a box” where all they have to do is put in their own people.

We won numerous prestigious awards for our work and attracted international attention. I was known as “Lady Zyng” and was at the highest point in my career. I worked 60 hours a week and loved it! I also had two young children and full-time help in the house but not live in. I came home around 6:00 to 6:30 pm every night, and they had already eaten and had their baths. My ex-husband and I ate later, but together. I stopped working weekends after the first year. In year five is when I got sick but kept working, and by year six, I was sick like a dog. In early year seven, we sold the company and my partner got a lucrative contract to stay on. I could have as well and it would have been a dream for me, but I was too sick to work at all. I also got divorced at this time, just after having surgery.

GG: What career change did you make after your diagnosis?

LK: I decided to open up a consulting firm from my home, and I have been providing professional services from my home for the past 12 years (see I have a very successful business, but I have to be at home because I have stomach cramps every morning and often throughout the day and need to be near a washroom. My whole life has changed, and I have a new “normal” now.

GG:  What is your disease/disability and how does it specifically stop you from working a full time job outside of home?

LK: Crohn’s disease. First off, I take six medications in the morning and another five before I go to bed, none of which are the same. I have had one surgery, about 10 years ago, a bowel resection where they removed about 18 inches of my lower bowel, and it was very successful and still is. I have not needed surgery since. When I get up in the morning, I have about two hours of cramps until I can empty my bowels, so I cannot leave the house or go to a normal job because I don’t know what time I can get out of the house. Some days are so bad I have to go back to lie down. Working from home allows me to work my own hours.

GG: Do you still encounter any challenges with your new profession because of your illness? How do/did you work around it?

LK: I can schedule my own hours, and I have clients come to my office in my home. I have a proper office as I would in an office building, and that is very important. If you are going to work at home, you have to have the right set-up and be diligent about getting up, getting dressed and reporting to work every day. You have to set an alarm and act as if you were going to an outside office or you end up spending the day in your pj’s and not getting anything done. It takes tremendous discipline.

GG: Do you work alone or with other people? How did you explain your situation to them, or did you have to say anything at all?

LK: I work with other people who freelance for me, all online and virtual. I don’t need to explain anything to anyone.

GG: How do handle necessary benefits like insurance that comes with normal 9-5 jobs? Did you use a spouse’s insurance, a parent’s, or did you use government funding? 

LK: I do not have private insurance but because I live in Canada and especially Quebec, all my treatments including surgery is free and covered by the government health plan. For my meds, I actually have a co-pay, where I pay $80 every three months and the government covers the rest. My medications are over $400 per month.

GG: What is an average day like for you at your new job? 

LK: It’s a regular day, but it starts off lousy: cramps and trips to the toilet, a sense of urgency (when I have to go, I have to go NOW!). That’s the problem with Crohn’s and going out: you don’t know when you will have to go and when you do, it is urgent. There are not always bathrooms everywhere, so I don’t go to outdoor concerts, parks, etc. I only go where I know bathrooms are, and that is a big change in my life.

GG: What advice do you have for other patients looking to start a new kind of job that fits around their illness? 

LK: Think of it as a gift. You get to find something that allows you to accommodate your illness and forces you to be kind to yourself. Find something you love to do and make it a business!

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