Study Guide

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 8

By Rebecca Skloot

Chapter 8

A Miserable Specimen (1951)

  • Henrietta's condition worsened, though her doctors can't really see that the cancer is spreading. She had some abdominal pain, but other than that, looked fine.
  • Skloot speculates that the doctor's response to Henrietta's concerns might have been "benevolent deception," i.e. not telling Henrietta the truth because they thought she couldn't deal.
  • Or maybe it was a general belief that white doctors had the last word over black patients. Either way, Henrietta probably didn't think she could challenge her white doctor.
  • Her medical treatment seems to have been standard practice for the day for black and white patients but we can't know if Henrietta was treated equitably at Hopkins.
  • When she complained again of pain, the doc still insisted she was OK. But a few weeks later, Henrietta was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. They sent her home.
  • Soon, her abdomen was full of tumors and Henrietta was in indescribable pain.
  • Doctors gave her radiation treatments to ease the pain and took more cells from her cervix for Gey. Hey, why stop now?
  • But the cells died immediately, since Henrietta's body was now so full of toxins.
  • Henrietta was in such excruciating pain that no pain medication worked on her, not even morphine.
  • Her medical record tells us that new tumors appeared every day and that Henrietta suffered miserably.
  • Skloot says that Gey never mentioned visiting Henrietta while she was in the hospital, but a colleague told her of one visit. Gey told Henrietta that her cells would make her immortal.
  • Henrietta told him that she was happy that some good would come of her suffering.

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