Category Archives: Medical

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, Crown Publishers, New York, 2010, 369 pages

This blog was not intended to be just a basic review of books but more of a documentation of my relationship with the content of what I read.  This book reminded me of my mission.

I started this book on the first day of Kwanzaa.  But less than 60 pages into it and I must have cried on nearly every page.  Not solely due to the story as it laid on the pages but because of where the story landed and continued to expand in my head.  This true accounting for how one simple, poverty-strickened, African American Woman’s ill health impacts science and the lives of millions around the globe is a forceful spinning of just about every major and minor areas of life as we know it became too much for me and I didn’t want the ending of one year and the beginning of another find me covered in grief.

The book continued to lay on my bedside table until a few days ago when I took it with me to the hospital while sitting with my 10 month old grand-daughter who was born with chronic lung disease.   When I took a break from reading I intentionally laid it so that any staff who entered the room could see it and although I intentionally chose not to bring it up, I waited to see who would be curious enough to want to know what I was reading or either for someone to recognize the book from their own reading.  In this case it was a good thing my expectations were not high because no one asked or recognized.

In trying to find a way to discuss or even summarize it with my daughter, the story is still overwhelming.  Do I start with the injustice and inequality of health care, or ignorance, the impact of slavery, or misogyny and abuse, racism, capitalism???  Why isn’t there a word that conveys all of this and yet explains it clearly????  The story is omni-present and burdening as it should be.   What keeps crossing my mind is how it makes me “smell” history.  “Smell” history? What is that?  If I figure it out before I end the book, I’ll write more about it.

To give a brief summary since this is my first post about the book, it is the story of HeLa Cells.  The first human cells that scientist found that could grow outside the body and how it impacted disease research and cures.  It is not a dry story at all but Skloot does a superb job of keeping humanity central to the accounting.   Also, if you can, purchase the book!  Some % of the proceeds go into a foundation Skloot started for the descendants of Henrietta Lacks.  You can read more about it on the author’s link.

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