November 6th is a big day for McKeeva Bush. It is the day the new constitution came into effect, bestowing on him the illustrious title of premier. But this date is also meaningful, because it marks the one year anniversary of his gastric bypass surgery. The surgery that helped him lose 100 pounds.
It is late in the afternoon when Cayman’s most powerful, controversial and charismatic politician sits down to talk about his surgery.
As he talks, McKeeva Bush eats saltine crackers and drinks hot tea with a touch of Splenda. It is one of the small meals he has throughout the day, part of his everyday life after a surgery that reduced his stomach to a fraction of what it was.
Facing up to his weight
For years, Bush’s girth was regular comedian fodder, but he seemed to take it in stride as just another part of being a high profile politician.
Although Bush had Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, he says he also had energy and he never got sick. His doctor recommended Roux en-Y, a type of gastric bypass surgery with a long successful track record in the US. This surgery effectively reduces the stomach to a fraction of its original size.
“My doctor said I needed to do something about it,” says Bush. “It could either be five days or five years, but I was going to be very sick if I did not do this.”
Bush made no bones about it. He had never been under anaesthesia before and he was scared.
So before he went into surgery he made out his will. He also made out his funeral programme, the hymns, the speakers, the scriptures to be read. And fellow church members prayed over him.
He weighed 330 pounds when he went into surgery at Baptist South. The surgery itself was straightforward. Shrugging off rumours that he had almost died, he acknowledges that he had lost three pints of blood and was put into the Intensive Care Unit. He explains it away, saying losing so much was normal and he was never in any real danger.
The hard part came when he came home from Florida. The whole family was gathered at his mother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. For some reason he thought he could have a little bit of turkey. But it was too soon to be off pureed foods and the turkey made him sick. Gas had also built up in his body. He went home uncomfortable and in pain.
Things got better after that. For exercise, he went on early morning walks through his neighbourhood. And the excess weight was coming off.
Three months after the surgery, his diabetes went into remission. His cholesterol also came down and his snoring disappeared.
He started campaigning in the election that would put him in Cayman’s top job.
Diet after surgery
As he describes his diet, Bush is so knowledgeable about nutrition and food, he could easily pass for a professional nutritionist.
He eats plenty of fruit: star fruit, papaya, grapes and apples. He loves homemade soups; Asian, seafood, beef and bean. He takes a multitude of vitamins every day.
He has learned that he can still eat some of his wife’s traditional Caymanian cooking, but only in small portions.
But nausea is something he has to deal with. He can’t eat anything too greasy or too sweet. And he can’t overeat, otherwise, he will get too nauseous and vomit. A significant part of his thinking is about controlling the nausea. He is getting better at dealing with this; he hasn’t vomited since some time last summer.
“When I get too busy, I forget to eat so I keep crackers and nuts handy. Or else gas builds up and then I can’t eat when I am ready to eat,” says Bush.
Hot tea helps with the nausea to a certain extent. But if the nausea gets too far along, the only thing that can control it is rum, specifically, 12 year-old aged rum. Bush stresses that he drinks rum only to control the nausea and when he does, it is less than two tablespoons. He has been a born again Christian for three years and doesn’t want his church to think that he has taken up drinking.
Political life and weight loss
Today, Bush has lost 100 pounds. He feels great, but his lifestyle is different.
He can’t go for morning walks since he was elected. Too many people come to talk to him during his walks and he never can finish it. So he is struggling to find a way to exercise regularly. He knows his home gym is a good answer, but he finds the treadmill boring and he doesn’t like working out in his backyard pool either.
Bush says his doctor wants him to lose another 50 pounds. But he is resisting, because he thinks he will get too skinny. One problem is clothing costs. He has gone from a suit size 56 down to a 42. Most of his best suits were made for him in Hong Kong at $150. But to have each one of them re-tailored to fit his smaller size was expensive, costing another $250 for each suit.
Then there is his political life. Before the surgery he used to be able to work until 4am and then get back up in the morning and start all over again full steam. Now he needs to stop by 1am and get some rest.
Then there is his capacity for debate.
“It used to be a word and a blow with me,” says Bush, meaning quick to retort to a political challenge. “I am still a politician, but I have more patience.” He still has plenty of political fight in him, but he is more willing to let a few go by that seem to just take up time and energy and go nowhere.
Finishing up his tea, he talks about how the surgery and lifestyle changes have made him more appreciative about where he is in life and his legacy.
As he talks, someone taps on the door, and the room is suddenly filled with political advisors and assistants with papers and urgent phone calls that need to be returned. Preparations are needed for a trip criss-crossing US cities and London to promote the Cayman Islands to foreign investors. It will be his first overseas trip as the premier. Phones are ringing and papers conceal Bush’s face and there is no time left to talk about where he is going in life.