I was at home in Boston when I got a call from a doctor in Madrid who said he had put my mother in an ambulance. Blood was pouring from her mouth. He didn't think she would arrive in the Hospital alive. My husband and I got on the first plane, via New York, and arrived in Madrid the next morning. She was full of tubes and a mask, still alive. The tests showed she had last stage bacterial pneumonia. Her lungs were a mess, and her stomach kept filling up with blood. She said goodbye to us feebly and told me to call her friends and do the same. She gave me instructions about where her jewels were (they were all gone, courtesy of household help). 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 of the view that it was time for our mother "to go." After all, she was 94. The two doctors at the hospital predicted she'd last maybe at most a week, two with luck. My first cousin, an orthopedist, said there was little hope. He said she might last a couple of weeks if movement would cause her to vomit the blood in her stomach, which otherwise would rot.
My mother refused to budge. She kept saying, let me die in peace. In a previous crisis she had said the same thing, and was later very glad she had made it, so I ignored her. As a child of war, later a refugee, an exile and an immigrant, I believe in action to survive. My favorite book as a youngster was Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," (read in Spanish translation). I moved into her room armed with an electric juicer and an electric masher. I slept in a small sofa.
After changing her diapers, I would remove her from her bed and dragged her, (not easy, as she weighed more than I do). She kept vomiting blood in the glass I held in front of her mouth. She fought me all the way, telling me off. The hospital staff was shocked, some visitors to the hospital appalled. My husband kept saying, "you must face the fact that your mother is dying." "Not yet," I repeated. Once the blood was out, I spoon-fed her water and apple juice, opening her mouth forcefully when she clenched it. Down they went with the antibiotics. The hospital served her regular meals; thick pieces of fish, beef or chicken, grilled veggies, potatoes or pasta, and a fruit. How was she going to eat that? She wasn't even able to sip with a straw. I ate it. It was delicious. The next day I started spoon-feeding her applesauce and mashed bananas. Her colossal diarrhea, black from blood, improved a bit. Next, she started on small, mashed portions of the hospital food. For myself I got my meals from the Hospital's cafeteria and ate in her room.
After a few days, the hospital said there's nothing they could do for her, put her in an ambulance and sent her home. On the way, my mother said, weakly, "They don't want another death statistic in their hospital, so they're sending me to die at home." Her brain was still working. Indeed, triage made her bed needed for someone with a chance of survival. "You still have a sense of humor," I said, trying to act cheerful. We continued the regimen of blended food; rice, potatoes, applesauce, yogurt, bananas, mashed chicken soup, some cooked fruit, and gallons of liquids. She still resisted the daily, forced, dragging walks. I would ask, "are you animal or vegetable?" "Mineral," she retorted. After a week she was throwing up much less blood. The diarrhea stopped two weeks later. She was increasingly more alert, making slow but steady progress. I added more foods carefully. Five weeks later she wouldn't even spit blood.
Two months after that call from the doctor who said she wouldn't make it alive to the hospital, she was eating normally; walking around her apartment on her own; going, accompanied, to the park; telling stories, singing songs, laughing and glad to be alive. "I love life," she said to anyone willing to listen. The day before I left, we went in a taxi to her favorite downtown restaurant. A month later, she went with my sister to a resort, where she swam in a spring warm water lake. Several years later she's still with us. Everyone said it was a miracle. I said, helped by that good old, obnoxious, stubborn Yankee spirit as described by Mark Twain.