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Finding Inspiration in the Oddest Places: The Airport Couple

6:30 a.m., Miami International Airport, feeling jet-lagged and just about destroyed from over 24 hours of travel, I looked through my stupor at the people who have come to reside in my head as “The Airport Couple,” a poignant lesson in what happens when you don’t take care of yourself. I love to people-watch at the airport, but this was not my usual people-watching.

They both have canes, are morbidly obese, and have extra-large sodas and pound bags of candy – plain M&Ms for her, peanut for him. The breakfast of champions, especially if it’s Diet Coke. They are struggling to breathe, to move, to walk, and even to eat the candy, yet they persevere. They both have an unhealthy pallor that comes more from poor health than bad airport lighting. Neither one makes eye contact with anyone else, not even their spouse. Their isolation, even in the midst of dozens of people, is profound.

Their misery and shame is palpable, and I feel like I should avert my eyes from their pain, and the practice of their addiction to food/sugar. It hurts to watch them, but I am unable to stop glancing sideways at them, in the way that children do when they notice a grotesquely fat or deformed person and simply cannot keep themselves from staring. I am wondering how they are going to make it onto the plane, and if they’ll even survive the flight, let alone whatever comes next. Selfishly, I hope I won’t have to spend the next six hours stuck sitting next to one or both of them. I feel intense sadness for the way that they’re trapped in their bodies, in their diseases, and their disconnection. I wonder which diseases they have, and how many. I make assumptions about diabetes, thyroid disorders, cholesterol problems, and heart disease. As time passes, and my flight is delayed, I add gout, emphysema, and of course depression to the list.

She is probably 52, but looks closer to 70. Walking is laborious, studied, and painful. Her thighs are so fat that her ability to walk a straight line is distorted. Yet she proceeds to the nearest shop to purchase more snacks for him; clearly, this is a form of care-giving. I think he is older, although it is hard to tell. He is almost immobilized, stuck in the confines of the narrow, hard-railed bench/chairs that are uncomfortable even for people of average size. I look for an oxygen tank, certain that must be part of their apparatus. He is wearing extra thickly cushioned diabetic shoes. I wonder about toe amputations. I think long and hard about this human catastrophe, and how preventable almost all of it is.

We struggle, day in and day out, to manage our PCOS, and whatever other diagnoses come with it. We get tired of eating right, limiting sugar and other carbs, avoiding alcohol and grain-fed meat, getting up at 5:30 a.m. to make it to the gym, taking supplements, and going to the doctor quarterly for check-ups. We complain that it isn’t fair that we’re stuck with this condition. We deal with, or don’t deal with, our depression, our anxiety, our obsessions and compulsions, or the thoughts that we might be bipolar. We adhere to diets and violate the diets. We struggle, and wonder why. I’ll tell you why – you don’t want to be The Airport Couple.

Gretchen Kubacky, Psy.D. is a Health Psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles, California. She has completed the inCYST training. She specializes in counseling women and couples who are coping with infertility, PCOS, and related endocrine disorders and chronic illnesses.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. HOUSE or her practice, or obtain referrals in the Los Angeles area, please visit her website at www.drhousemd.com, or e-mail her at AskDrHouseMD@gmail.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @askdrhousemd.

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