Schalk Burger blow by blow
Schalk Burger has explained exactly how a pre-season calf strain eventually resulted in him ending up in intensive care fighting off bacterial meningitis.
The Springbok flank has not played since February 2012, and as a result has been the subject of much speculation, with his comeback postponed a few times due to a series of complications.
He addressed the media at Newlands on Monday and gave a full explanation of how a calf injury led to an operation on a cyst near his spine which in turn resulted in serious illness.
"Obviously there has been a lot of speculation but basically what happened was I started training with the Stormers at the beginning of this year and I felt reasonably good.
"After a while, in about 40 minutes of training or so, probably the equivalent of about 3km of running, I felt some spasticity in my left calf and when that happened I started to pull up because I was scared that I would tear or pull my calf muscle.
"Eventually I went for a back scan and it showed up that I had a cyst in my back right next to my spinal chord. I went in for an operation to relieve the pressure by draining the cyst, and unfortunately I picked up a hospital bug which led to bacterial meningitis," he said.
Burger admitted that there were a few nervous moments for his family as he fought off the meningitis in isolation.
"There was a critical stage for about four, nearly five days in which there was a lot of uncertainty. Obviously through that period I was in isolation and I was seriously ill, so ill in fact that some people around me thought 'this is it'."
"Luckily I got through that and also draining the cyst wasn't good enough so they had to come up with a new gameplan and that was actually removing the cyst.
"Unfortunately after that I had to have another three back operations. Where I am at now is that I am busy recovering, the cyst has been removed completely so I am just recovering from the bacterial meningitis," he explained.
The Stormers stalwart said that the unkown 'hospital bug' that he contracted during the initial operation to drain the cyst had simply been a case of bad luck which could have happened to anyone else.
"I contracted a bug which led to bacterial meningitis, but they couldn't pinpoint exactly what bug it was. I was basically lying in isolation in a room and not able to do much.
"I hade headaches, nausea and I was getting quite a lot of convulsions – not quite seizures but it was certainly close – so I was seriously ill and that was just unfortunate.
"I suppose when you make a hole anywhere there is the chance of infection and getting a bug. That was the serious part, and that happened just after the first procedure so it was just bad luck on my behalf," he said.
The cyst, which has been there for about the last ten years, has since been completely removed and Burger said that he is grateful that it was identified before it did any long-term damage.
"No-one is really sure what it is about, but it could be trauma-related so it could have been a rugby injury. But it was there for a long time – approximately ten years.
"I am thankful that they caught it at that stage, because if they hadn't it could have done some long-term damage.
"The bunch of neurosurgeons working on my case decided to have a look. They drained the cyst and analysed the contents thereof, which was benign, there was nothing serious.
"Then I fell ill and I think that influenced the way I was healing so after my illness they decided to remove it completely," he said.
Burger hopes to return to the playing field once he recovers fully from the meningitis, which could be later this year, and joked that the Stormers' form this season is not helping the speed of his recuperation.
"I can understand now why coaches lose hair, go grey and get pretty uptight. I think it has been a year of near-misses, I don't think we have had any luck on or off the pitch.
"I hope for my health they start winning because my nerves and my fingernails haven't lasted too well this year," he quipped.
By Michael de Vries