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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot
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Describe Henrietta's death and autopsy in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

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The death of Henrietta occurs in Chapter 11, and her autopsy in Chapter 12. It is clear from the description provided in the book that her death was an immensely painful and tragic one. Emmet, who witnessed some of her last moments, describes the pain she was in and how she rose up and thrashed around at times:

Lord... Henrietta rose up out that bed wailin like she been possessed by the devil of pain itself.

When finally she did die, he and other family members felt it was a welcome release because of the pain she experienced and the way that she had to be tied down so she wouldn't thrash too dangerously and hurt herself and others. The autopsy of Henrietta is described from the point of view of Mary, the assistant, who remembers how Henrietta's body had each major organ removed and was then sewn back up at the end. Mary remembers in particular at the end how she looked down at Henrietta's toe nails and saw they were covered in "chipped bright red polish," and she understood that she had been a real person.

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