Image credit: Clarksville Now

I guess it was about a week or two ago when I first began to entertain the notion that I’d need to be leaving Nashville, Tennessee—my home for the past four years—and decamp for someplace safer during the coming COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike our Glorious Leader, I DID see the shit storm that was blowing up, because I do things like “reading newspapers” and “listening to the news” and “generally keeping up on what’s going on in the world.”

By the time I dropped off my son with his mother in early March—who knows when I’ll see him again, now that the Canadian border is closed for nonessential travel, thanks Donald, thanks Republicans—I was already worried about some of the choices I might need to make. That was hammered home over the past week, as the New York Times (or was it the Washington Post? Pardon my Internet brain, I simply can’t recall) ProPublica published an interactive map in which you could select your metro area and see how coronavirus was expected to hit. Readers were prompted to select varying levels of infection, ranging from 20% on up to 100% 60%, and the map would illustrate how overwhelmed the hospital system would be.

First I clicked on Philly, a city of 1.5 million people, the poorest large city in the United States, a massive heroin and homelessness problem, and—as much as I love it—kind of a clusterfuck. I stuck with 20% infection, which resulted in something like 127% of beds occupied.

Yikes, right?

Well, Nashville is half the size of Philadelphia, just 650,000 people. And although it’s currently cash-poor, it’s the state capitol and pretty well-off. At 20% infection rate, however, 225% of hospital beds were occupied.

That’s on top of the fact that the state is nearly dead last for rural hospital closures. They closed another just last week. This is mainly because Tennessee is run by far right wingnuts who, to this day, hate Obama so much, they have refused to expand Medicaid.

I’m nearly 50 years old, which makes me higher risk for COVID-19 complications. I also have asthma—thankfully, it’s mild but that also jacks up my risk. I lost my job about a week ago, also due to COVID-19. I was already considering these things when the shit began hitting the fan. Lockdowns. Shelter-in-place. Reports from Lombardy. But it was Canada’s first border restriction that really hit me. What if they close down the highways? What if I can’t leave the state? What if I get stuck? The last thing I wanted was to put myself in a position where I needed treatment I couldn’t get. The last thing I wanted was to get news from Philly that my dad or his wife were in hospital, and I couldn’t get there.

Over the past week, I watched the Tennessee legislature—already defying people pleading with them to shut down meetings to prevent the spread of the virus—focus on such important matters as making the Bible the state book and doing away with carry permits. We made the Rachel Maddow Show as one of seven states doing nothing to stop the spread of coronavirus.

So on Wednesday, I decided I wasn’t sticking around to live through a humanitarian disaster in a failed state, which is what Tennessee is, or will be once all of this is done. I packed up the necessities, and prepared for the 13-hour drive for my father’s house in Philadelphia.

But I woke up Thursday morning feeling a little under the weather—which could have been due to sitting up late and drinking beer with my housemate, but could also be… well, you know. So I decided to drop by Vanderbilt Medical’s walk-in clinic, which is one of the few sites where you can get tested in Nashville.

I arrived around 9:45 AM, and added my name to the list. After waiting about 20 minutes to get called, the fellow sitting next to me said he had signed in at 8:30, got his first interview (it’s a two-tiered process, apparently) at 9:30, and was still waiting to be seen. He was upset and irritated. Everyone was wearing masks. A morbidly obese derelict whose personal aroma was like being punched in the face pushed his wheelchair around the room with his foot, coughing and hacking loudly and incessantly, and making everyone more nervous than they already were. He spit in the water fountain. President Trump was on the TV doing a press conference: he was lying as usual. It’s easy to tell when he’s lying, by the way—the tell is when his lips move. It was also making people nervous. The man next to me kept complaining to anyone who would listen.

A few minutes later, a staffer walked to the entrance and posted a new sign. Apparently, they were turning away people who wanted tests, although no one was saying anything. It was nearly 10:30 in the morning, and they were… out of tests? Who’s to say? Neither the governor, nor the legislature, nor the Tennessee Department of Health has been straight with the people they serve: the latter won’t even say how many ventilators they have. [The article also points out Nashville’s big shelter, Room at the Inn, will no longer let people stay overnight. So the city’s homeless population, which is a lot larger than you might imagine, are now stuck out on the streets (or hanging out at McDonald’s until it closes) presumably getting infected and spreading COVID-19. This isn’t meant as a slam on homeless people, just an acknowledgement of the unsafe conditions they are exposed to on a daily basis, and how those unsafe conditions now have much wider public health ramifications.] But yes, continue to address the pressing matter of the Bible, which you obviously have never read, or there wouldn’t be a homelessness crisis to begin with, you damned hypocrites.

Seeing that sign go up at the clinic made me realize I was doing the right thing. I didn’t even stick around for the test: a quick Google search showed me that Philadelphia already had drive-through clinics, and more than one (Nashville has none). I asked the woman behind the desk to take my name off the list, exited the building, started the van and got the Hell out of Dodge.

Some of you may know that Nashville had its ass kicked by a horrible tornado, which cut right across the state. I wasn’t in town for that disaster, and have spent most of my time back in isolation at my house. So I-40 East was an eye-opener. As I traveled through Williamson Wilson County, it was sheer fucking devastation, the likes of which I have never seen in person before. Hundreds of trees torn up from the ground, scattered around like toothpicks. Homes torn in two. Whole stands of pines still bowed over, three weeks after the storm. All I could think of was those closed hospitals, the refusal to expand Medicaid, and the obvious disaster that was going to make that tornado look like a carousel ride.

I’m safely at my father’s house now. Self-isolation and quarantine are a real issue here—as I said, he and his wife are in their 70s—and the extent we’ve gone to is a whole other level of crazy. It’s a very rational, reasonable, and necessary kind of crazy, but nuts all the same. I’ll write a post about that later.

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