I am the proud owner of a silver badge. It doesn't sound much, but it means something to me, and for all I know, it means the difference between life and death for someone I'll never meet.
I've been a blood donor all of my adult life, and today was just another donor session, really - save for the little silver badge. The mobile unit parks right outside the office these days, and we can make appointments so that the whole thing is quick and efficient. I wandered down nice and early this morning, with my forms all filled in, and was processed in short order by the usual efficient crew - it's generally the same faces every time; it strikes me that seeing the same people each time must signify that what cannot be a well-paid profession must have a lot of rewards. I like to have the blood taken from my right arm, being left-handed; the trouble is, the veins in my right arm aren't always as keen. This morning, there was a bit of a struggle - I offered to get the chisel, but we managed it in the end. As I lay there, steadfastly not looking at the needle, I naturally found myself thinking about all those previous donations...
The very first time I gave, I had only been eligible for about 3 weeks - it was November 1980, and - I know I'm not making this up - all first time donors were being enticed with the promise of a half pint of Guinness. Of course, this was inside the student union builldings at Potterrow in Edinburgh - I suspect the Guinness was not on offer to the general public. It wasn't the Guinness which tempted me, though; it was simply one of those things I had alwways known I wanted to do. I remember vividly lying under the striplights in the refectory building, and feeling very pleased with my little blue book and my elastoplast. Over the years, I've given blood in a wide variety of locations, from the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, via a 19th century hospital in Inverness, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, somewhere I've drawn a complete blank on in Perth, various church halls and, oddly, once a nursing home, to the current mobile unit. I have only once had an unpleasant experience - in a church hall in Rickmansworth, when I didn't press hard enough after the needle had been withdrawn, started to drip blood on the floor and promptly passed out. It wasn't the sight of the blood, I'm pretty sure - I can watch the bags and test tubes being filled with no problem - more a case of donating on an empty stomach. Since then, of course, I take donation day as one of my many excuses to overeat.
No dramas today, however. I am awarded my silver badge marking 25 donations, and warmly thanked, as always, and I make my way back out into the persistent drizzle, feeling a little better about myself, and only briefly wondering if there is someone lying on an operating table at Watford General about to benefit from a simple gift, freely and anonymously given. And I smile quietly to myself and get back to work.