Study Guide

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 33

By Rebecca Skloot

Chapter 33

The Hospital for the N**** Insane (2001)

  • Although Deborah's made peace with Hopkins, she still has to face Crownsville and the possible horrors faced by her older sister Elsie.
  • The "Hospital for the N**** Insane" is no longer the facility it had been in Elsie's time. Now it's a multipurpose building. Most of the records from the '50s have been buried.
  • An employee named Paul Lurz had managed to salvage some of the records from that time, and he actually has Elsie's autopsy report.
  • But what Deborah finds doesn't bring her peace. Instead, she finds a photo of a battered Elsie, crying, with the hand of a white woman around her throat.
  • The file reveals that she probably died of internal bleeding, from self-induced vomiting.
  • Deborah stands up to a supervisor that doesn't want her to have a copy of Elsie's autopsy report, and the supervisor hands it over.
  • Skloot looks through other papers that Lurz saved and finds some disturbing truths about Crownsville.
  • It was overcrowded and understaffed in Elsie's time. The criminally insane were housed with the general population, sometimes sexual predators in the same ward with children.
  • And there were scientific experiments done on the inmates there without the consent of the family.
  • There were two studies done on the brains of patients, and it seemed as if Elsie would have been a subject in both because of her epilepsy. The experiments were horrendous, to say the least.
  • Deborah's devastated, especially since she didn't know about Elsie for all those years.
  • She begins to get manic on Skloot, pretending to be very positive and bright about their discoveries. But she keeps the picture of Elsie open on the front seat of her car, and it agitates her.
  • By the time they get to Annapolis to have a look at the records of Crownsville there, Skloot's worried. Deborah's talking nonsense and seems out of control.
  • Her behavior continues to get more erratic as they drive to Clover. She admits to Skloot that the picture of Elsie is really getting to her.
  • When they stop at a hotel for the night, Deborah finally gives Skloot Henrietta's medical records to read.

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