Xi’an, China, sits at the eastern end of the ancient Silk Road, the fabled trade routes that once connected China to the western world.
It is there, 7,800 miles from home, that basketball took former LSU center Theresa Plaisance to play in a winter professional league.
It was there or in an airport or train station she traveled through in early December, long before most anyone in the West had heard of the city of Wuhan or the pandemic that is believed to have started there, that Plaisance believes she got the coronavirus.
She can’t be entirely sure. She was never tested for it. Her official diagnosis when she went to the hospital there on Dec. 14 was “pneumonia and unidentified virus.”
But Plaisance, 27, knows she had some of the telltale coronavirus symptoms. A fever that reached 103 degrees and lasted for five days. Chills. Vomiting. An intense head cold. Even after her fever finally went away, Plaisance said she had a hard time catching her breath when she ran up and down the court.
“There was no such thing as coronavirus when I was sick,” said Plaisance, a two-time All-Southeastern Conference center who played for LSU from 2010-14. “They tested me for the flu. It put me at ease when they said, ‘It’s not the flu, it’s just a virus. I thought, ‘Thank God I don’t have the flu.’ ”
Somehow she got through it, and even flew to a game a few days after being released from hospital care. Still on IVs, Plaisance played amazingly, pouring in 51 points and grabbing 31 rebounds.
Not that she remembers much of it.
“The game was a big blur,” she said. “I could barely breathe.”
Plaisance flew home during a planned midseason break in early January. She was supposed to fly back to China on Jan. 29, but by then the coronavirus was raging through the country and she stayed home.
Now things are better there and Plaisance is in New Orleans, one of the world’s current coronavirus hotspots. Not able to be completely sure she contracted the virus, she is balancing social distancing with trying to run errands and make store trips for older relatives.
“It’s a scary time for everybody,” Plaisance said. “But I do feel I probably would fight it off a lot better in that I probably did have it and have some antibodies and some immunity to it. But I’m trying to keep my family and grandparents safe.”
Plaisance wishes she had the presence of mind at the time to better document her illness.
“But I was so sick I barely looked at my phone,” she said. “I was just trying to make it through.”
Her initial hospital experience in Xi’an did leave an impression, though.
“They brought me into this hospital room with four beds next to each other a foot and a half apart,” Plaisance said. “Really tight. And there were two beds perpendicular to those against a side wall. We were all strangers to each other.
“A woman got out of bed and they said, ‘You can lay there.’ I said no. I was so sick I would have done just about anything, but that crossed a line.
“So I sat in wheelchair in the hallway. They said they couldn’t IV me in the hall but I said, ‘I’m not laying down in a bed that hasn’t been sanitized. Finally, they opened up a room for me, almost a surgical room. It had a bed that they took the wrapping off.”
Plaisance said the crowded hospital ward wasn’t because of coronavirus patients. “There were people with all kinds of different things. I was afraid of getting sicker.
“They should have been afraid of what I had. But I was trying to practice social distancing even then.”
Plaisance spent several days going in and out of the hospital, getting treatment, as many as four IVs a day. She can’t even begin to guess what medicine she was given at the time.
“I didn’t ask what they were putting in me,” Plaisance told ESPN. “I just wanted the pain to end.”
Meanwhile, she’s home, trying to keep in shape and get ready for a WNBA season — Plaisance plays for the Connecticut Sun — that like sports everywhere is currently in limbo.
“As of right now everything is planned as it normally is,” she said. “The (WNBA) draft is planned at the same time (April 17). But with the coronavirus, everything is changing minute by minute. We’re prepared to hear of a postponement, so I’m trying to stay in shape as best I can.”
Despite her illness, she said she would go back to play in China again.
“It’s not the Chinese people’s fault,” she said. “I would feel comfortable going back playing there.”
What would make her a little more comfortable now would be knowing for certain that she is a coronavirus survivor.