In the September sunshine, the trees in the park outside the clinic window shine like yellow and orange beacons. The healthy green of summer has turned to warmer hues, perhaps the trees’ homage to the summer heat that is quickly fading into memory as the cool morning mists descend. The colours are beautiful but I can’t help remembering that those jubilant shades are really a sign of something dying. It’s so noticeable because it’s in such stark contrast to the life and energy of the park-goers; children running around, teenagers shouting their way through games of football.

And as the weeks go on, the leaves will start to fall. As the wind blows and the rain falls and the sun dries the stems, the bright cloak will slip slowly to the ground. And why do I find it disturbing? As I look out on the busy park, day by day, as darkness comes earlier each evening, the trees lay bare their blackened skeletons and there is something morbid in that.

Perhaps what is really disturbing is that no one in the park seems to really notice the change. Life continues with the same vibrant energy: the footballers still argue angrily about penalties, the children still giggle and scream, couples still stop to embrace each other tenderly. No one seems to be put off by the naked, skeletal forms emerging around them. Although, one thing does seem to change; as the trees strip down, the people put on more layers of clothes – coats, scarves, gloves and hats.

Those leafy veils removed, all the blemishes, broken branches and odd entanglements are no longer masked. This is sad to see; it’s certainly far less beautiful and comforting for me than looking out on the beautiful yellow and orange glow. But now that the leaves are down, the tree surgeons can do their work, taking down branches that have grown into unhelpful tangles and stripping back suffocating ivy that has enveloped the trunk. They don’t make the trees immediately beautiful again, but I know they’re doing their best to create the circumstances, once the winter has passed, for all those trees to have the best chance of bursting back into a full and glorious life when spring comes.

Looking back at my computer screen, I see that my first patient today is Autumn. She is seventeen years old and has recently been diagnosed with anorexia. She enters my office for her first appointment, wearing a baggy orange jumper. She smiles nervously at me and I invite her to take a seat next to the window, preparing myself for our difficult conversations to begin.


David Neal. David’s work draws inspiration from his life as a final year medical student. He reflects on the nature of the self, society, health, politics and technology, primarily through flash fiction and short stories: small keys, designed to unlock big ideas and complex worlds of thought. In addition to fiction writing, David was shortlisted for the 2014 Wellcome Trust and Guardian Science Writing Prize. David is an Editor for mental health magazine This Space and is Head of Policy at student-run global health think tank Polygeia. Find him on Twitter: @DavidPNeal1.


Image Credit: sand_and_sky, Flickr

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