The final season of Game of Thrones is less than a month away, and one of the show’s stars, Emilia Clarke, has decided to share some personal details of her terrifying medical history. In a New Yorker article, Clarke chronicles an illness that almost forced her to quit the show. Thankfully, the Mother of Dragons prevailed, but it was certainly a scary journey.
“Just when all my childhood dreams seemed to have come true, I nearly lost my mind and then my life. I’ve never told this story publicly, but now it’s time,” she began.
She goes on to explain that at the start of 2011 she had just completed filming the first season of the HBO series, and during a workout she “immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing [her] brain.” She says she tried to ignore it, but the headache was too much, and she was unable to continue. She explained she became “violently, voluminously ill” while the “shooting, stabbing, constricting pain” only continued to get worse.
“At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged,” she notes.
After getting a brain scan, it was revealed that Clarke had a a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), which is a “life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain.” This is extremely dangerous and kills one third of patients.
“I remember being told that I should sign a release form for surgery. Brain surgery? I was in the middle of my very busy life—I had no time for brain surgery,” she writes. “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 first surgery was “minimally invasive,” which means they did not open up Clarke’s skull. Afterwards, it was revealed that she was suffering from aphasia, “a consequence of the trauma [her] brain had suffered.” Naturally, this caused panic as she was unable to recall her own name, making her think in the moment that her acting dreams were over just as they were beginning. Luckily, the aphasia passed after a week.
Clarke explains that before filming Season Two, she was worried she might die. She was doing press for the series and it proved to be difficult. “I vividly remember thinking, I can’t keep up or think or breathe, much less try to be charming,” she notes.
She reveals that filming Seaon Two ended up being the worst, with her constantly fearing for her own life. Then, after filming Season Three, she had a brain scan and learned she needed to have another surgery. However, the procedure failed and they ended up needing to access her brain “the old-fashioned way,” which meant through the skull. Afterwards, parts of her skull had to be replaced with titanium.
After a rough recovery and a long time of feeling fearful, Clarke says she’s finally ready to share the story.
“But now, after keeping quiet all these years, I’m telling you the truth in full," she writes. "Please believe me: I know that I am hardly unique, hardly alone. Countless people have suffered far worse, and with nothing like the care I was so lucky to receive.”
Thank you for your courage, Emilia!
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