I've been studying for a little over five weeks now. The first class was okay. We got a pretty good grasp of what the oral health is all about and what it is that the dentists (and dental hygienists and dental technicians) actually do. Turns out, it's so much more than just teeth. But there was a lot of filler, and way too much philosophy than I would ever want in dentist school. I can speak for the majority of the class when I say that we were all anxious to get to the real stuff. The biology. The human anatomy. The mouth.
And this week we're getting heavily into science of the mucous. I've only been studying cellular biology and histology for two days, but it already feels like two weeks. When I come home at night, I'm either too tired to sit down and write a new post, or work with Photoshop (I got a seven day free trial and I'm hoping to make the most of it), or I have other stuff that needs to be done. Which is why writing this post right now feels more of an accomplishment than it should.
But something happened in school yesterday that made me extra motivated to rush home and turn on my laptop. We had a book giveaway in school! And to think that I almost skipped out on that lecture...
The book is called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by science writer Rebecca Skloot. I'm embarrassed to say that I've never heard of Henrietta Lacks before and that her cancerous cells helped revolutionise modern medicine.
Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons.
HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.
The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.
Our entire class got a free copy of this book. The Swedish translation, titled Den Odödliga Henrietta Lacks. But, as one would suspect, there is a catch. This book is required reading, and we're going to be discussing it in class in a few weeks. Which I am absolutely, undoubtedly looking forward to. Are you kidding me? You give me a free book and you want me to read it and discuss it with other people? If the teachers' intention was to mess with the class, they probably don't know what a book blogger person does.
And yes, the whole reason I'm taking a break from reviewing books is because I've got too much of the same old thing. But this is different. This is science. This is historical nonfiction, which I love. And also, it's required reading.