Emilia Clarke’s career soared when Game of Thrones (GOT) debuted back in 2011. However, that period of her life wasn’t the glitz and glam you’d think it was. In an essay for The New Yorker, Clarke revealed she experienced two life-threatening brain aneurysms after she finished filming the first season of the popular HBO show.
“On the morning of February 11, 2011, I was getting dressed in the locker room of a gym in Crouch End, North London, when I started to feel a bad headache coming on,” the 32-year-old wrote.
She then continued, recalling her first aneurysm during a workout with her trainer.
“My trainer had me get into the plank position, and I immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain. I tried to ignore the pain and push through it, but I just couldn’t. I told my trainer I had to take a break. Somehow, almost crawling, I made it to the locker room. I reached the toilet, sank to my knees, and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain-shooting, stabbing, constricting pain-was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.”
The events of that day are “noisy and blurry” for Clarke, but she specifically remembers the sound of a siren, throwing up bile and someone saying her pulse was weak.
Once she was rushed to hospital in London, Clarke was diagnosed with a subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) – a life-threatening stroke.
“For the next three hours, surgeons went about repairing my brain. This would not be my last surgery, and it would not be the worst. I was twenty-four years old,” the actress wrote.
She described the pain upon waking-up as “unbearable” and recalled having no idea where she was or even who she was due to a condition known as aphasia.
“My full name is Emilia Isobel Euphemia Rose Clarke. But now I couldn’t remember it,” she explained. “Instead, nonsense words tumbled out of my mouth and I went into a blind panic.”
The aphasia soon passed and just over a month later, she went back to work to film season two of GOT.
However, that wasn’t the end of her battle – another small aneurysm appeared on the other side of her brain, which heavily affected her health.
“Even before we began filming Season 2, I was deeply unsure of myself. I was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die,” she wrote. “Staying at a hotel in London during a publicity tour, I vividly remember thinking, I can’t keep up or think or breathe, much less try to be charming. I sipped on morphine in between interviews. The pain was there, and the fatigue was like the worst exhaustion I’d ever experienced, multiplied by a million.”
By the time filming for season three in 2013 wrapped up, her aneurysm had doubled in size. She was scheduled for a second emergency surgery, this time, being much more invasive than the first.
“I emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of my head. Bits of my skull had been replaced by titanium,” she recalls. “These days, you can’t see the scar that curves from my scalp to my ear, but I didn’t know at first that it wouldn’t be visible. And there was, above all, the constant worry about cognitive or sensory losses.”
At first, she was convinced she wasn’t going to live, however with plenty of time and rest, Clarke is happy to announce she has now made “a 100 per cent” recovery and has even founded a charity called SameYou, which aims to help raise money for people recovering from brain injuries. “I’m so happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next.”