The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks


Rebecca Skloot

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

By September 1951, cancer has taken over Henrietta’sbody. She must receive constant blood transfusions because her kidneys aren’t filtering toxins out of her body. Finally doctors decide to stop giving her transfusions because she’s using up too much blood. Henrietta’s cousin Emmett Lacks hears that Henrietta needs blood, and gathers more of her male cousins to visit an emaciated Henrietta, who’s being watched by Sadie and Gladys. After visiting Henrietta, Emmett and the men go to a room designated for “colored” blood collection to give blood for her. In the present day, Emmett remembers Henrietta’s kindness and beauty, and her pain.
Sklootkeeps hammering home the racial themes in her book; even while they are running low on blood, doctors will only give Henrietta donations from the “colored blood” supply. This constant inequality throughout the medical system, while not necessarily responsible for Henrietta’s death, most certainly made her last days more difficult, and also probably kept her from getting proper care beforehand.
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Late September in 1951, a doctor gives Henrietta a heavy dose of morphine and orders all other treatment to cease. Henrietta wakes up terrified and disoriented. She then tells Gladys that she is going to die, and she begs her sister to care for her children. After she falls asleep, Gladys goes back home to Clover. She then calls Day to tell him that Henrietta is going to die, and to say that her last thoughts were of her children.
At the end of her life, Henrietta’s last thought is for her children; yet as we will see in future chapters, her request that they be taken care of and loved will not be honored. Readers know this even as Henrietta dies, a fact that only increases the tragedy of the scene.
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