Although there’s no obituary for Henrietta, the Gey lab hears news of her death quickly. Her body is put in the “colored” freezer, and Gey asks her doctors if they can perform an autopsy to see if other cells in her body will grow like HeLa. Although there’s no law about taking cells from a living patient, the doctors at Hopkins must ask Day whether they can remove tissue from Henrietta’s dead body. When they first call, Day says no. When he goes to see her body, the doctors ask again, adding that the tests they run may help Henrietta and Day’s children. Day agrees.
Even in death, Henrietta’s body is segregated in the “colored” freezer. We also begin to see a new trend amongst Henrietta’s doctors: they manipulate Day in order to get more research materials, telling him that their research may help his children. They decide to use his ignorance about their research in order to get what they want.
Mary Kubicek is deputized to collect tissue for George Gey at the autopsy. The pathologist samples from almost every organ in Henrietta’sbody, as well as saving pieces of her tumors. As she watches Gey work, Mary is struck by Henrietta’s toenails with their chipped, red nail polish. In the present, Mary recounts seeing the toenails and realizing that Henrietta was “a real person.”
Mary’s realization of Henrietta’s humanity is both understandable and tragic. Of course, having only worked with Henrietta’s cells, it is easy for her to forget that they came from a person; at the same time, however, it is this exact mentality that makes it possible for so many researchers and doctors to mistreat their subjects and patients.
Days later, a train takes Henrietta from Baltimore to Clover in a cheap coffin. The Clover undertaker drives Henrietta’s coffin into Lacks Town. Cootie prays that she rest in peace, while Gladys and Sadie get ready to prepare the body for burial. Cliff and Fred, meanwhile, have spent the day digging a grave. When Sadie sees Henrietta’s chipped toenail polish, she begins to cry; “Henrietta would rather have died than let her polish get all chipped like that.” On the day of her burial, there is a sudden thunderstorm.
Both Sadie and Mary are deeply affected and saddened by Henrietta’s nail polish. Yet while Mary realizes only that Henrietta is human, Sadie remembers the vibrant woman she once was. The thunderstorm also makes for perfect symbolism, as Henrietta’s death, and the cells that caused it, have set off a storm—one that will envelop the rest of the narrative.