Local woman’s scary wait for surgery

East London resident Sandra Whittal experienced one of the worst affects of the lockdown recently when she needed urgent surgery while theatres across the country were closed.

ROUGH JOURNEY: Sandra Whittal is recovering after finally being able to get her much-needed surgery after the re-opening of operating theatres in Cape Town

Whittal began experiencing a strange fluid leak out of her nose after an accident in December last year.

While attending a function at the EL Ski Boat Club, Whittal fell and hit her head hard.

However, at first, there seemed to be no serious symptoms.

“It was probably in the beginning of March 2020 when it started,” her husband Anthony Whittal said.

“She developed a leak in the right-hand side nostril.”

The couple visited their GP, who quickly identified the fluid as coming from the brain, and immediately sent them to EL specialist Dr Paul Steyn.

“Your brain is covered by fluid, it’s like a shock absorber. That fluid stays in your brain and spinal cord.

“Once it starts leaking out into the rest of your body, it’s a big problem because you can get serious complications,” Steyn said.

“By itself, it doesn’t kill you but you might get a headache from it and in the long-term, you can get meningitis because bacteria from the nose can get into the brain.”

Whittal underwent a scan, where a fracture was found in the roof of her ethmoid sinus, a hollow air-filled space in the bones between her eyes and nose.

Dr Paul Steyn helped Sandra Whittal during her ordeal

It was this fracture that was allowing fluid to leak out.

Steyn recommended they go to Prof Darlene Lubbe in Cape Town, but there was a problem.

“When I phoned her [Lubbe], the theatres had only just started locking down,” he said.

The sinuses are a particularly fertile place for the coronavirus to breed, and operations could put both doctors and patients at risk.

Lubbe said Whittal should be treated medically and isolated until theatres reopened.

“My wife had to be isolated because any kind of infection that could get in through the nose could reach the brain. We had to just sit it out.

“We were confined to the home for the best part of six weeks,” Anthony said.

It was tough, and Whittal even ended up in ICU at St Dominics, but eventually the theatres in Cape Town opened and they were able to book her surgery.

They weren’t out of the woods yet, though.

“I had to drive her all the way to Cape Town myself, and I couldn’t get accommodation with everything closed [due to lockdown regulations],” said Anthony.

Thankfully, the couple were able to secure lodgings with friends in the city, and Whittal was able to undergo her operation.

Five days later, and she was out, though she still has to undergo regular check-ups.

The couple wished to express their gratitude to Dr Steyn, who they said had helped them tremendously during their ordeal.

“He was absolutely amazing,” Anthony said.


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