The epic battles her character Daenerys Targaryen faced were nothing compared to those Emilia Clarke was fighting behind the scenes.
In a personal emotional essay published in The New Yorker, Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke revealed she was struck with two life-threatening brain aneurysms after filming the first season of the HBO series.
The first one occurred in 2011. Back then, to overcome the pressure of her sudden fame, she works out a lot.
“My trainer had me get into the plank position, and I immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain. (…) 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. (…) I said to myself, “I will not be paralysed.” I moved my fingers and toes to make sure that was true. To keep my memory alive, I tried to recall, among other things, some lines from “Game of Thrones.”
Immediately rushed to the hospital, an MRI revealed she had subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH), caused by head trauma or other blood vessel problems. “Brain surgery? I had no time for brain surgery “she recalls. She eventually accepted.
This type of brain injury is hazardous: a third to a half of patients survive with “good recovery,” another third to 20% survive with a disability, while another third will die.
“If I was to live and avoid terrible deficits, I would have to have urgent surgery,” Clarke wrote. “And, even then, there were no guarantees.”
One night after the operation, a nurse asked for her name for a routine cognitive exercise. Clarke couldn’t remember it.
“I am an actor; I need to remember my lines. Now I couldn’t recall my name. (…) My job—my entire dream of what my life would be—centred on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost”. It turned out she had aphasia, which is a language disorder that’s a side effect of brain damage.
One month after her operation, the actress leaves the hospital and goes back to work on the promotional tour of the series. However, it will not be long before Emilia Clarke learns that she has a second aneurysm, which could rupture at any time. After a routine brain scan, the medical staff decided to perform the same surgery a second time.
Recovering from the second surgery was much more difficult than the first, Clarke wrote. Clarke said she suffered anxiety attacks while in the hospital.
“I felt like a shell of myself. So much so that I now have a hard time remembering those dark days in much detail,” she wrote. “My mind has blocked them out. But I do remember being convinced that I wasn’t going to live.”
Despite what she’s been through, Clarke is “now at a hundred per cent”, and she is grateful that she received great care when she needed it.
“In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes,” she said.
“I feel endless gratitude-to my mum and brother, to my doctors and nurses, to my friends.”
Clarke has since set up charity organisation Same You, which helps people recover from brain injuries and strokes, and aims at building a case for an improved aftercare experience for all in the future.
Picture: Emilia Clarke speaking at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International, a few weeks after her second brain surgery. Credits: Gage Skidmor