The Perfect Enemy | ‘Hot Spot’ memoir considers lessons from Nashville’s COVID-19 response
September 29, 2022

‘Hot Spot’ memoir considers lessons from Nashville’s COVID-19 response

‘Hot Spot’ memoir considers lessons from Nashville’s COVID-19 response  Tennessean

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The early weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic were a swirl of uncertainty.

How lethal would this novel coronavirus be? Would hospitals be overrun? How long might it take for a vaccine to be developed? 

Now, 30 months after the start of the once-in-a-century pandemic — and, presumably, in its waning days — Dr. Alex Jahangir, Nashville Metro’s former COVID-19 Task Force leader, reflects on the city’s response and the lessons he’s learned.

Jahangir recently published his memoirs on the subject, “Hot Spot: A Doctor’s Diary From the Pandemic,” which focuses on the first year of the pandemic.

It touches on how much of the community came together to care for its elderly population and how historically Black institutions like Meharry Medical College reached out to marginalized communities to get them treatment. But it also takes aim at the administrations of former President Donald Trump and Gov. Bill Lee for their response (and often lack thereof) to the pandemic. His book also chronicles the often hostile response many in the Nashville-area community had to the government’s COVID-19 response.

The Nashville Public Library hosted a panel discussion on the book last week. Former NBC News anchor John Seigenthaler moderated the event. Jahangir was joined by Nashville Mayor John Cooper, Metro Public Schools Director Adrienne Battle, and Fire Department Director-Chief William Swann.

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The book, Jahangir said, aims to chronicle the shared trauma we all experienced during the pandemic in the hopes that we all may heal from it and coming generations may learn from it.

“I hope each of you will find something in this book that you can relate to,” Jahangir told the audience of about 100. “Shared experience helps us to heal but also (it helps) so we don’t forget.”

Jahangir, director of  Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s division of Orthopedic Trauma, also writes about how he drew on his experiences dealing with childhood bullying as an Iranian immigrant to the United States to field criticism in his adult public life.

He noted as much during a recent interview with The Tennessean as he recounted a confrontation he had in a bar with a person who recognized him as Nashville’s point person on COVID-19:

“I was sitting there having an afternoon beer with a friend of mine and this person recognized me and, you know, made some comments that were initially hard to hear but then became very aggressive very quickly,” he said. “It was evident that I needed to leave to both protect myself, physically, but also I don’t think confrontation is the best way to address a lot of issues. It just saddens me.”

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As head of the city’s COVID-19 task force, Jahangir weathered the public response to lockdowns and masking requirements. He also faced challenges in his own family − from his three daughters’ tough time dealing with the pandemic and virtual learning to his wife’s decision to put her professional life on hold to help with child-rearing.

Much of last week’s panel discussion focused on Jahangir’s leadership during the pandemic and the need for good leadership during any public crisis.

“I don’t think people can appreciate the situation we were in. I mean, this was something new. And there was no blueprint,” Swann told the audience. “It’s all about leadership.”

Nashville Mayor John Cooper agreed, noting that Jahangir was the perfect choice to lead the city’s COVID-19 response.

“He was willing to tell us the truth and tell us what we had to go through in order to get better,” Cooper said. “We needed a doctor who could talk to us like a doctor sometimes has to talk to us.”

It’s worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic has very much not ended.

More than 100 Tennesseans have died as a result of the novel coronavirus in September alone, according to the state Department of Health. That puts the state death count at 27,538.

And, as of Thursday, 685 hospitalized patients in Tennessee have COVID-19.

As Jahangir recently noted to The Tennessean:

“I think the bleeding has slowed down. I think we’re at a place where people know what to do,” he said. “People are vaccinated, there’s medications, there’s immunity from so many of us having now been infected and mortality is going down. But the bleeding I worry about, the bleeding I don’t know if we’ve gotten under control yet is the bleeding in our society of not being able to get people to come together and address serious problems without personally disrupting the other individual.”

Frank Gluck is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at fgluck@tennessean.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FrankGluck.

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