‘Won’t you please ask the nurses to bring me MST the next time they come’? That was the plea from Ms. S, from her home in Protea Glen Extension 11, Soweto. MST is short for Morphine Sulphate Tablet and is effective for chronic pain relief. When we went to visit Ms. S, she was in desperate need of the morphine.
‘I have pain almost every day, all the time, it’s a non-stop pain’, she said.
Every day, Ms. S takes morphine and a cocktail of other trusted pain-killers to numb down the pain she suffers as a result of the cancer that’s eating her up.
Bed-ridden, she caresses her legs under a smooth woollen blanket as she courageously tells her story.
‘I was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. I have a cancer of the spine. It has affected me especially in the bones in such a way that I cannot walk. I’m in bed as I’m talking to you now. And it affected me in my knees and also in the spine’.
Ms. S was diagnosed while working overseas as an au pair and had to leave her job to come back home for treatment. But the cancer spread very quickly and rendered her motionless. She has endured fractures and is in constant physical pain. Alleviating pain is one of the three guiding principles of palliative care and every effort is taken to lessen the pain suffered by patients, including the prescription of morphine ‘ which sometimes it’s feared might cause addiction in patients. But that is not true, says Dr Natalya Dinat, head of the Centre of Excellence in Palliative Care, in Johannesburg.
‘For people who don’t have pain, morphine can be abused and can cause addiction. For people who do have pain you can’t get addicted to morphine because your pain sort of chows up the morphine. So, you cannot be addicted if you are using it for pain’¦ What the International Narcotics Control Board, which is an international strategy body that is attached to the World Health Organisation in the United Nations has said very clearly is that there is no need for anybody to suffer, and for any country to deny their patients medicinal access to morphine because of a fear of fuelling drug abuse. They are begging countries, ‘please let your people access (morphine) for medicinal use’,’ explained Dinat.