A few months ago, when I first met Alberto, I used to sit with him and do all the talking, mostly about small things, who I was, his nice shirt, the weather, the food on his plate . . . All I could get from him were a few occasional nods, and on good days, some yes or no's. In Alberto's chart, it said he had schizophrenia and Alzheimer's. He understood English but preferred to speak in Spanish, and he could hardly see, only the contour of people's faces.
Alberto always sits in the same chair by the dining room window, where the noises from the busy street can be heard loud and clear.
Talking to his nephew, I discovered that Alberto had learned French during his childhood, back in Peru. When I saw him next, he echoed my "Bonjour" and seemed to perk up as I ventured a few French words here and there. "Comment ca va?" got me "Comme ci, comme ca". Alberto stared at me, and I asked if he could see me. "Just the shape of your hair." We parted with mutual "Au revoir"s and I left for ten days. A long time for someone who is not supposed to remember.
On my first day back, I stopped by the first floor dining room, to check in with another resident. "Bonjour!" Sitting nearby, was Alberto welcoming back. We started talking and Alberto wanted to know "Quel age avez vous?" I was thrilled to oblige him, and in turn asked about his age. "Quatre vingt deux ans".
Alberto sitting still, gazing at my face. I tell him I have to go now and I will see him again soon. Someone else wants my attention and I forget about Alberto.
"Au revoir". Alberto catches me as I exit the room.
Forgetfulness is a relative notion, that affects only certain parts of the brain, and certainly not the heart.