The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 33 Summary
by Rebecca Skloot

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Chapter 33 Summary


The day after seeing Henrietta’s cells, Rebecca and Deborah set out to learn what had happened to Elsie Lacks. They drove to the Crownsville Hospital Center, the site of Elsie’s death. The campus was beautiful and well-groomed, but the main building seemed deserted. Rebecca and Deborah made their way through the empty hallways until they found a room labeled “Medical Records.” Inside, there were only empty shelves.

The women wandered the hallways, looking for answers. Deborah eventually got frustrated and began shouting up and down the halls, demanding to know where to find medical records. A few people popped out of offices and pointed in the right direction.

Eventually Rebecca and Deborah found Paul Lurz, “a tall man with a thick white Santa Claus beard.” When he heard that Deborah wanted information about Elsie Lacks, a mental patient who had died at Crownsville in 1955, he looked grave. The hospital had no official archivist, and he had only managed to preserve a few records. Much of the old paperwork had been destroyed due to asbestos contamination. But this lack of information was not the only thing that worried Lurz. He said:

I’m afraid Crownsville wasn’t a very nice place to be back then…You have to be prepared…Sometimes learning can be as painful as not knowing.

Deborah said that she wanted to learn as much as possible, no matter how terrible it was. Lurz dug through his personal archives for the few leather-bound books he had managed to save. In one of them, they found Elsie’s autopsy report. With it, he found a gruesome picture: it showed Elsie looking terrified, her face bruised and swollen, with a pair of white hands gripping her by the neck. 

Along with the records, Rebecca and Deborah found a newspaper article stating that the hospital had grown extremely overcrowded around the time Elsie died. Patients were crammed into rooms, typically forced to share beds or do without beds entirely, sometimes left alone with no toilet facilities except drains in the floors. Patients of all ages and sexes were housed together, even though some of them had a...

(The entire section is 541 words.)