Proofs: How to make morphine

This piece is cross-posted from Morgana Wingard’s Wanderlust blog.

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In Uganda, I learned how to make morphine -– a potent opioid that’s become the gold standard of relieving gut-wrenching pain. A little pinch of this powder, mixed with a little of that, infused with a little color die and voila, morphine.

When Shelley asked me to join her for a couple days to photograph the work of African Palliative Care Association (APCA) through partners in Uganda and Kenya, I envisioned patients with cleft palates and then maybe feet. Anyways, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In some ways, palliative care is more like the hospice care my stepmother received before she died of cancer. But, that’s also a common misconception.

Yes, palliative care treats patients with terminal illnesses, but it’s more than that. I spent five days with Shelley learning about that “more” by talking with doctors and patients in Uganda and Kenya about the vital, transforming, yet overlooked work of palliative care in Africa.

“Once one is in pain, the entire family is affected,” Rosemary explained to me on the edge of tears. Rosemary, the senior dispenser at Hospice Africa Uganda, manages the production and distribution of morphine for the entire country of Uganda. Earlier I had watched her make the neon-green, magic potion-looking concoction in her small lab in Kampala and then pour it into bottles much like your typical water bottle.

“In Africa each one of us has experienced patients or relatives die of severe pain… I know that somewhere, somehow this morphine may reach either a friend or a relative or some close person who is in pain and to make a difference in this person’s life and probably make a change in the entire family’s life.”

So, there’s the beginning of my first lesson about palliative care. More to come…