The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapter 1 Summary

1951

Shortly after her daughter Deborah was born, Henrietta Lacks told a group of female friends and cousins that she felt something wrong in her womb. She described the feeling as “a knot inside me.” The other women encouraged her to see a doctor. Henrietta did not heed their advice but did not complain about the pain again. Not long afterward, she found out she was pregnant with her fifth child. Her friends thought that the "knot" must have been the baby. Henrietta said they were wrong but did not talk to a doctor about it.

A few months after her youngest son, Joe, was born, Henrietta began to experience vaginal bleeding at the wrong time of the month. She took a hot bath, inserted a finger into her vagina, and found

a hard lump, deep inside, as though someone had lodged a marble just to the left of the opening of her womb.

At this point Henrietta could no longer put off a visit to the doctor. Her husband drove her to the gynecology clinic at Johns Hopkins hospital in East Baltimore. This hospital was twenty miles from their house, a good deal further than several other hospitals in the area—but it was the only one that offered treatment to black patients like the Lackses.

Howard Jones, the gynecologist on duty, listened to Henrietta’s complaint and flipped through her chart. He noted a long history of untreated medical conditions, including a series of nose and throat problems, a possible case of sickle cell anemia, and untreated gonorrhea and syphilis. Henrietta had refused most of the tests and treatments doctors had recommended for these conditions.

(The entire section is 416 words.)