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I was in Boston when I got a call from a doctor in Madrid who told me he was at my mother’s and had sent her in an ambulance to the hospital, but didn’t think she would be alive by the time she got there. Glassfuls of blood were pouring from my mother's mouth. My husband and I got on the first plane, via New York, and arrived in Madrid the next morning. She was still alive in the hospital, full of tubes and a mask and very weak. She said goodbye to us and all her friends and told me where her jewels were (they are all gone) and mentioned her burial. Our youngest son, his wife and toddler arrived soon after, the others had their suitcases ready, but I told them to wait until I evaluated the situation. My sister, who lives in South America, was resigned that it was time for our mother “to go." After all, she was 94. Tests were done, the diagnoses was last stage pneumonia. I was told her lungs were a mess and full of blood. Two other doctors who saw her predicted she'd last maybe a few days, at most, a week or two. My first cousin, an orthopedist and an angel, told me there was little hope, but she would die unless the blood from her lungs came out, and the only way was to make her move. My mother refused to budge. She refused to eat or drink. She kept saying, let me die in peace.
I have been a child of war, a refugee, an exile and an immigrant, and believe in action and survival. My favorite book as a youngster was Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” (read in Spanish translation). I got to work. I forced my mother to drink, and spoon-fed her mashed food (mashed with a fork, the hospital served her regular meals, delicious, I ate it most of it). I changed her diapers, then forced her to get out of bed and walk, holding a glass in front of her while she threw up blood. She fought me all the way, telling me off. The hospital staff was shocked, some visitors to the hospital appalled. My husband, horrified, kept saying, "you must face the fact that your mother is dying." “Not yet,” I repeated. She started on antibiotics. Her diarrhea was black from swallowing blood, and colossal. She kept begging to be left in peace to die. I slept in the sofa in her hospital room. The hospital said there’s nothing they could do for her, and sent her home in an ambulance. “They sent me home," my mother said weakly, "because they don’t want me to die in the hospital and be in their statistics.” She was able to think.
We continued the regimen of blended food; rice, apple sauce, yogurt and liquids, liquids, liquids, and several forced, dragging walks a day. "Are you animal or vegetable," I would ask. "Mineral," she retorted.
One week later: she was throwing up less blood.
A month later: the diarrhea stopped. She was increasingly more alert, making slow but steady progress. I added more foods carefully.
Five weeks later: she no longer even spit blood.
Six weeks after the doctor called me to tell me she wouldn’t make it alive to the hospital she was up, walking around her apartment on her own, going out, accompanied, to the supermarket, eating normally and well, telling stories and singing songs, laughing and happy to be alive. "I love life,” she said to anyone willing to listen. The day before I left we went to her favorite downtown restaurant. A month later she went with my sister to a resort and she went swimming.
Everyone says it's a miracle. Nope, I say, it's that good old, obnoxious, stubborn Yankee spirit described by Mark Twain.

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