Study Guide

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 11

By Rebecca Skloot

Chapter 11

"The Devil of Pain Itself" (1951)

  • Henrietta was actively dying. She had tumors in every part of her body, and she could no longer process toxins.
  • Her family and friends in the Baltimore area heard that she was in need of blood, so they headed to the hospital to donate. Her cousin Emmett Lacks rounded them up.
  • This was a testament to Henrietta's giving spirit: she had cared for all of them when they first came to work at Sparrow's Point.
  • Emmett had a closer connection to Henrietta. He drove her to Crownsville so she could see Elsie one last time.
  • Skloot tells us this was also the last time anyone would ever visit Elsie.
  • When Emmett saw Henrietta this time, he hardly recognized her. She was wasted away from her disease, and strapped into the bed to keep her from falling out during seizures (from pain).
  • Emmett witnessed one of these seizures, saying that she looked possessed by "the devil of pain itself."
  • He understood then that the cancer was particularly strong, and can see why her cells can't be killed.
  • A bit later, Henrietta gave her final directions to Gladys, knowing that she'd die soon: make sure Day takes care of the children, especially Deborah.
  • Gladys gave Day the message and told him that Henrietta would die that night.
  • She died on October 4, 1951—a little over a week after that conversation.

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