My great-grandmother, Maria Coelho, affectionately known as Bibi, was one of the most pious women I have ever known. She was a devout Catholic and had a moral compass that was unparalleled. There was no in between with her. You were either right or you were wrong. She demanded that you treat yourself with respect and that you carried yourself with the utmost propriety. In the 30 years that I had the honor of knowing her, I am convinced that she never did anything wrong.
In 1998, Bibi suffered a major stroke. That morning, Vovo, my grandmother, called me to come over and help her with Bibi because she just wasn’t acting right. I was in grad school at the time studying to become a Speech and Language Pathologist and I immediately recognized that she was having a stroke. While she was still able to speak, it wasn’t making much sense. We got her to the ER and I’m with her as the Dr was checking her out. He asked if she spoke any English. I said “No”. Of course, Bibi looks at him and says “Dr, Nobody’s home!”… In perfect English!!!
I had studied in class certain phenomenon that happened with a persons language skills after a stroke, like forgetting their native language and only speaking a second language. So at that point, Bibi had started to speak only English. I had NEVER heard Bibi speak English in my life. There I was worried about my 94 year old great grandmother suffering a major stroke and I’m giggling in the ER in shear disbelief over what I just heard!
By the end of that day, she was stable but not speaking … In Criolu or English. I spent the night with her after and was with her when she woke up the next morning. I asked her how she was and she looked at me and said “Alberto”. Every time she opened her mouth to speak, she said “Alberto”. All I kept thinking was “Who in the world is Alberto?”.
Nobody knew who Alberto was. No one had even ever heard Bibi mention Alberto. Her husband’s name was Avelino. So who was Alberto and why was that the only thing she could say????
To make matters worse, a social worker visited my great-grandmother in the hospital to have some paperwork done regarding a Medical Power of Attorney, etc. She apparently asked Bibi who she wanted to handle her medical decisions and Bibi responded “Alberto”. So later that day, I arrived at the hospital and asked a nurse about Bibi’s condition and she told me she couldn’t talk to anyone except “Alberto”!!!!
Needless to say, I caused a bit of a ruckus and made sure everyone understood that she had Aphasia and could ONLY say that one word.
Bibi’s speech eventually came back and she was back to her normal self in no time. At 94, she wasn’t about to let a little stroke keep her from going back to being our family matriarch. One day, I asked her who “Alberto” was. She never responded but gave me that look that meant I better not ask again if I valued my life.
To this day, every time I look at vital records from Cape Verde, I’m always keeping an eye out for someone named Alberto who almost became my Great Grandmother’s Medical Power of Attorney 🙂