Emilia Clarke opens up about her health and revealed she had two aneurysms recently, and almost died during the operation.
In an essay called A Battle For My Life that the Game of Thrones actress wrote for The New Yorker, Clarke wrote, “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. I was so fatigued that I could barely put on my sneakers. When I started my workout, I had to force myself through the first few exercises.”
She continued, “Then 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.”
She was sent straight from the gym to the emergency room, where, “The diagnosis was quick and ominous: a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain. I’d had an aneurysm, an arterial rupture. As I later learned, about a third of SAH patients die immediately or soon thereafter. For the patients who do survive, urgent treatment is required to seal off the aneurysm, as there is a very high risk of a second, often fatal bleed. If I was to live and avoid terrible deficits, I would have to have urgent surgery. And, even then, there were no guarantees.”
Clarke then underwent brain surgery, and wrote, “The operation lasted three hours. When I woke, the pain was unbearable. I had no idea where I was. My field of vision was constricted. There was a tube down my throat and I was parched and nauseated. They moved me out of the I.C.U. after four days and told me that the great hurdle was to make it to the two-week mark. If I made it that long with minimal complications, my chances of a good recovery were high.”
She continued, “I was suffering from a condition called aphasia, a consequence of the trauma my brain had suffered. Even as I was muttering nonsense, my mum did me the great kindness of ignoring it and trying to convince me that I was perfectly lucid. But I knew I was faltering. In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug. I asked the medical staff to let me die. My job—my entire dream of what my life would be—centered on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost.”
Clarke was then told she had a “smaller aneurysm,” adding, “The doctors said, though, that it was small and it was possible it would remain dormant and harmless indefinitely. We would just keep a careful watch. I told my bosses at ‘Thrones’ about my condition, but I didn’t want it to be a subject of public discussion and dissection. The show must go on! 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 said that for the entirety of season 2, “If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die.”
After finishing season 3 and appearing on Broadway, Clarke needed to undergo a surgery for “the growth on the other side of my brain had doubled in size”. She continued, “The procedure had failed. I had a massive bleed and the doctors made it plain that my chances of surviving were precarious if they didn’t operate again. This time they needed to access my brain in the old-fashioned way—through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately.”
She concluded, “In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes. I am now at a hundred per cent.”
Clarke now runs the charity SameYou for people recovering from strokes and other brain injuries.