Masi man blind after methanol poisoning

Blessing Mukumbi and Trymore Mlambo.

A Masiphumelele man narrowly escaped death after methanol poisoning earlier this year.

In June, seven Masiphumelele men died and several others fell ill after consuming home-brewed alcohol.

Trymore Mlambo, 50, a chemical mixer at a local factory spent 11 days in hospital, drifting in and out of darkness and his sight came and went, and he eventually returned home blind.

The incident has cost him his job of nine and a half years and the potential to earn any income for his family.

Mr Mlambo met his friend, Blessing Mukumbi, 38, on Sunday May 31 at a local shop where they bought breakfast.

A friend, Innocent Kuseni, then invited them over to his house, saying he had managed to buy brandy from a neighbour.

At the time, the sale of alcohol had been banned as part of the national lockdown. The ban has since been lifted.

Mr Kuseni was already drinking the “brandy” when they got to his house, and only half of the 500ml bottle was left. He told his guests he had paid R60 for it.

He poured them some “brandy” and diluted it with Coke and added a slice of lemon.

“The first taste was nasty and very bitter so I spat it out,” said Mr Mlambo.

He questioned what it was but was convinced it was brandy and it was said to be strong because it was “very potent.”

The trio finished the rest of the bottle, and Mr Mukumbi went to the neighbour to buy another bottle. All three then left for Mr Mukumbi’s house.

“We had a few more drinks, and, at first, it had no effect, so we went to buy another two bottles,” Mr Mlambo said.

Mr Kuseni returned to his home and Mr Mlambo, Mr Mukumbi and a few other friends continued drinking.

Mr Mlambo said he had felt weak and dizzy after drinking about two litres, but it had not been like drinking brandy where one became more intoxicated.

“You stay at the same level of drunkenness,” he said.

Mr Mlambo left around 7pm, had something to eat and then went to bed.

He was picked up the next day by his employer at the taxi rank and said “he felt fine”.

However, his employer saw he was not looking well and asked him if he was okay.

At the end of his work day, Mr Mlambo’s employer noted again that he was not looking well when he dropped him off at the taxi rank in Masiphumelele.

Mr Mlambo still had no symptoms and it was only when a car screeched to a halt, hooting and flashing its lights as he crossed Kommetjie Road that he realised he had lost his sight.

“I could hear voices around me, but I couldn’t see the car or the people,” he said.

A friend led him home where he poured milk into his eyes, but he could still not see the light inside his house.

His wife called Mr Mukumbi who then told him that Mr Kuseni had died earlier that day.

Mr Mlambo said he had been shocked to hear of Mr Kuseni’s death and had then realised that it must have been the “brandy” they had drunk..

He called a former employer, Barbara Lander, a nursing sister at a private hospital, who rushed him and Mr Mukumbi, who was still symptom free, to False Bay Hospital.

Mr Mlambo was transferred to Victoria Hospital the following day and then to Groote Schuur Hospital for further treatment after he had lost his sight.

His sight would come and go and sometimes he could see well in the morning but then it would disappear again in the afternoon.

“They tried their best but there was nothing they could do for me,” Mr Mlambo said.

Mr Mukumbi said he had only started feeling sick after processing Mr Kuseni’s death.

“I collapsed from the news of his death and was admitted with Mr Mlambo.”

He spent four days in hospital.

“I was the lucky one. Three of the men that died were my close friends, and I knew the others from seeing them around.”

Ms Lander said Mr Mlambo had worked for her as a gardener over weekends for many years and she had known it was an emergency when he had called.

She offered to pick him up at the Masiphumelele clinic. When she arrived there, a large group approached her car carrying Mr Mlambo.

She hardly recognised him but could hear it was his voice and she could see he was “very scared and uncertain of his surroundings”.

Ms Lander said Mr Mukumbi and another friend had decided not to go to work that day and had taken some vodka. Apparently vodka will delay the onset of the methanol poisoning but she does not know if that is why
Mr Mukumbi still had no symptoms.

“I have dealt with alcohol poisoning but have never dealt with methanol poisoning so it was a learning curve for me. I did not believe that vodka can slow down the process until I did some reading. One is never too old to learn,” she said.

Dr Liezel Rossouw, from False Bay Hospital, said patients with methanol poisoning often ended up in ICU or high care.

Methanol poisoning caused severe electrolyte and acid base abnormalities in the human body and formic acid, also named
methanoic acid, was the primary toxic substance that formed with poisoning and was responsible for end-organ damage, she said.

Blindness, she said, was due to optic-nerve cell damage and the treatment therefore is directed at supportive measures and correcting the electrolyte disturbances and metabolic acidosis which forms.

“Ethanol can be used to inhibit the metabolism of methanol in an intravenous or oral form.”

Forensic biochemist Dr Gerry Norris said methanol could be deadly and even in small doses it attacked the optic nerves and could cause rapid blindness or death in higher doses.