Henrietta’s relatives all remember her pristine fingernails and toenails, which she kept painted a vibrant red. Indeed, her female cousins only understood how sick she was once they saw how chipped her nails were becoming, as she was too weak to continue painting them. Meanwhile, the nails mean something quite different for Mary Kubicek, George Gey’s assistant. When she attends Henrietta’s autopsy, the sight of Henrietta’s painted nails makes her realize for the first time that HeLa came from the suffering of a real human being.
Henrietta’s Fingernails and Toenails Quotes in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Mary’s gaze fell on Henrietta’s feet, and she gasped: Henrietta’s toenails were covered in chipped bright red polish. “When I saw those toenails,” Mary told me later, “I nearly fainted. I thought, Oh jeez, she’s a real person. I started imagining her sitting in her bathroom painting those toenails, and it hit me for the first time that those cells we’d been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live woman. I’d never thought of it that way.”