Skip to main content
“One dollar. Un dolar. Change the inflection, amigos, and you have dolor.” Lanford paused.
“Dolor,” he said slowly, “the Spanish word for pain. Dolor, meaning sorrow. Dolor, meaning anguish.”
“Dolores,” he said, letting the “es” sound linger. “The plural, meaning many sorrows. Dolores, as in she who suffers.”
He stopped and looked out at the crowd.
“Let me tell you a story, friends, about what this one dollar could do for a little girl named Dolores.”
Dr. Lanford clicked on the slide projector and a giant image of a small Mayan girl appeared, strands of matted dark hair laced across her face. Her eyes were heavy with infection, her meager countenance witness to the tiny lives lamented in world hunger ads on Sunday morning TV.
“Dolores,” Lanford repeated, leaning into the microphone, his starched collar digging into his chin. “Her very name means suffering. Suffering in a way you and I and your children and your children’s children will never know, have never known.
“I met her when she was only six years old. Mi nombre es Dolores,” she said to me when I first met her. Pero todo el mundo me llama la pequeña abandonada. My name is Dolores, but everyone calls me the little abandoned one.
“Abandoned by a mother too sick and poor and beaten down to care for her, Dolores lived at the garbage dump, el basurero, of her rural community, among the street urchins that were the lowest of the low on the descending ladder of poverty. In el infierno de los condenados — the inferno of the damned. When we found her, she was curled up on a ragged mattress, eating rotted mangos, her eyes covered in flies.
“She had acute trachoma, granular conjunctivitis that left only a sliver for her to look out of. Her skin was ashen and covered in open sores. She weighed a mere 25 pounds, and was half the height of an American child her age.
“Malnutrition, infection, dehydration, trachoma, diarrhea. Take your pick of pathogens and pathologies, they were all there living inside of tiny Dolores, she who suffers.
“But not anymore. Not anymore.” Lanford turned to the projected image behind him.
“This” — he shook the dollar bill again, violently, like a dying can of spray paint — “this tiny dollar changed all of that.
“We brought Dolores to our field hospital and for ten days we pumped her full of electrolyte fluids and antibiotics that this dollar paid for.”
Lanford grabbed his wallet and pulled out another dollar bill. “For ten days we fed her a bland diet that cost less than a dollar a day. We bathed her crusted eyes with saline antibiotics that this dollar paid for.”
He pulled out another dollar.
“And on the tenth day, when she was bright-eyed and smiling, we gave her a new doll — her very own baby doll — that this dollar, the same meaningless dollar that you all spend every morning for that caramel macchioto, paid for.”
Lanford clicked and a new slide appeared behind him of a sweet and smiling girl, her eyes bright, her long hair woven into a gleaming braid, her clothes fresh and clean. She looked up at the camera hugging a baby doll wrapped in a striped blanket.
“And for the first time in her young life, Dolores, la mas pequena abandonada, was whole and healthy and happy.
“While we sit here in this lavish hall drinking our pisco sours and sucking down shrimp as big as a Texas longhorn, this dollar is saving lives, saving families, saving nations, saving the world. It’s a miracle.”
Peter Lanford stopped and stared at the audience.
“Miracles, my friends, isn’t that what we all dreamt about when we were kids who wanted to grow up to be doctors, way back in those moments before we fell asleep, our 6-, 8-, 12-year-old heads sinking into the soft pillows on the warm beds we grew up with? Doing good. Helping people. Wiping out diseases. We dreamt about that, you and you and you,” he pointed to the well-groomed physicians sipping their cocktails before him. “You and I dreamt about that — though we’d never admit it in medical school, of all places, not on the ward, not in the Operating Room, and sure as hell not in the Emergency Room where the broke and bedraggled go in this great land of ours.
“No, good works cease to exist once you enter the cynical world of the medical establishment, but somewhere — deep down between the ninth and tenth hole on the golf course, perhaps, in the split second on your skiff before you trim the sail, as your debutant daughters in their thousand-dollar gowns sweep down the marble steps of your country club, your childhood dream of working miracles reappears, and we remember.