The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Study Guide

Rebecca Skloot

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks | Part 1, Chapter 11 : "The Devil of Pain Itself" (1951) | Summary



Henrietta's cousin Emmett Lacks, who last saw Henrietta when he took her to visit Elsie at Crownsville, hears Henrietta needs blood because the hospital has stopped giving her transfusions until she can "make up the deficit" to the blood bank. He and his brother and some friends come to give blood, and when he sees Henrietta, she is rising from her bed in terrible pain; in Emmett's words, she looks "like she had been possessed by the devil of pain itself." The sight convinces him Henrietta's cells live on because they are so strong and terrible.

Henrietta's doctors give her a huge dose of morphine and stop all other medications. Surrounded by her sister Gladys and her friend Sadie, Henrietta tells Gladys to make sure Day takes care of the kids, especially Deborah, and doesn't let anything happen to them. Henrietta dies on October 4, 1951.


Emmett's urge to give blood shows his love for Henrietta and their strong family connection. Gladys is not close to Henrietta, but she travels to the hospital from Clover because Henrietta is family, and the Lacks family sticks together.

One chilling fact: Henrietta can't have more blood transfusions until she replenishes what she has used. A white person would never be denied treatment because of a blood deficit, but Henrietta has to give blood to get it.

Another moment stands out in this chapter: Henrietta's instruction to Day not to let anything happen to the kids, especially Deborah. The opposite happens later, when Day allows the one person who hates Henrietta to live with him and take care of the children. Deborah will not be kept safe at all.

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