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Emilia Clarke Revealed That She Had Two Brain Aneurysms And Brain Surgeries After Landing Her Role On Game Of Thrones

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Imagine getting an absolutely massive break for your career, watching that break turn you into an A-Lister, and then almost losing it all because of a health problem out of the blue. Well that’s exactly what happened to Emilia Clarke, as she described in great detail in The New Yorker.

I was terrified. Terrified of the attention, terrified of a business I barely understood, terrified of trying to make good on the faith that the creators of “Thrones” had put in me. I felt, in every way, exposed. In the very first episode, I appeared naked, and, from that first press junket onward, I always got the same question: some variation of “You play such a strong woman, and yet you take off your clothes. Why?” In my head, I’d respond, “How many men do I need to kill to prove myself?”

To relieve the stress, I worked out with a trainer. I was a television actor now, after all, and that is what television actors do. We work out. 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.

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.

Nothing to bring you back down to Earth from the natural high of massive success in your dream job to realizing your fucking BRAIN is damaged.

Finally, I was sent for an MRI, a brain scan. 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.


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. But, finally, I settled down and signed. And then I was unconscious. 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 thought process of not having time for brain surgery because you are too busy seems crazy. But most people in their mid-20s feel invincible and push back doctor visits to ensure their career doesn’t suffer, let alone a career that has a big green up arrow next to it.

That first surgery was what is known as “minimally invasive,” meaning that they did not open up my skull. Rather, using a technique called endovascular coiling, the surgeon introduced a wire into one of the femoral arteries, in the groin; the wire made its way north, around the heart, and to the brain, where they sealed off the aneurysm.


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.

Oh excuse me, I didn’t realize this was minimally invasive surgery that didn’t open up the skull. Just your basic, everyday surgery of the most advanced and important part of the human body.

As you would expect, Emilia’s recovery took time. She had trouble remembering her name and simply saying it was an impossible task, which is kind of a big deal for an actress.

 

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.

Jeeeeeesus. So to recap, in a few months time, Emilia Clarke went from the biggest break of her career to losing the will to live from a condition knew nothing about. And in case that wasn’t enough, there was another aneurysm found on her brain.

 

I went back to my life, but, while I was in the hospital, I was told that I had a smaller aneurysm on the other side of my brain, and it could “pop” at any time. The doctors said, though, that it was small and it was possible it would remain dormant and harmless indefinitely.

Hearing that your brain aneurysm could go “pop” at any moment or could be just fine has to be a total mindfuck every day to go along with the stresses of your job, whether you are writing poorly worded blogs or being the centerpiece of a show that was on its way to becoming a megahit.

 

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. 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.

Fighting against the mental agony of a health issue while also sipping on morphine in addition to starring as a key character on a mega successful show sounds like absolute agony.

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On the first day of shooting for Season 2, in Dubrovnik, I kept telling myself, “I am fine, I’m in my twenties, I’m fine.” I threw myself into the work. But, after that first day of filming, I barely made it back to the hotel before I collapsed of exhaustion. On the set, I didn’t miss a beat, but I struggled. Season 2 would be my worst. I didn’t know what Daenerys was doing. If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die.

I’m obviously no TV critic. I’m barely even a smut blogger. But I rewatched Season 2 of Thrones a few weeks ago and I could have never guessed that as Khaleesi was navigating through the shady fucks up Qarth, Emilia Clarke thought she was going to die every day.

She obviously didn’t die. But that second aneurysm she was told about? Yeah, it required surgery.

 

In 2013, after finishing Season 3, I took a job on Broadway, playing Holly Golightly. The rehearsals were wonderful, but it was clear pretty soon that it was not going to be a success. The whole thing lasted only a couple of months. While I was still in New York for the play, with five days left on my sag insurance, I went in for a brain scan—something I now had to do regularly. The growth on the other side of my brain had doubled in size, and the doctor said we should “take care of it.” I was promised a relatively simple operation, easier than last time. Not long after, I found myself in a fancy-pants private room at a Manhattan hospital. My parents were there. “See you in two hours,” my mum said, and off I went for surgery, another trip up the femoral artery to my brain. No problem.
Except there was. When they woke me, I was screaming in pain. 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.
The recovery was even more painful than it had been after the first surgery. I looked as though I had been through a war more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced. I emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of my head. Bits of my skull had been replaced by titanium. 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. Would it be concentration? Memory? Peripheral vision? Now I tell people that what it robbed me of is good taste in men. But, of course, none of this seemed remotely funny at the time.

So this was one of those invasive brain surgeries where you get holes poked in your skull, with both physical and emotional scars left behind.

I spent a month in the hospital again and, at certain points, I lost all hope. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. There was terrible anxiety, panic attacks. I was raised never to say, “It’s not fair”; I was taught to remember that there is always someone who is worse off than you. But, going through this experience for the second time, all hope receded. I felt like a shell of myself. So much so that I now have a hard time remembering those dark days in much detail. My mind has blocked them out. But I do remember being convinced that I wasn’t going to live.

How did Emilia deal with this terrifying procedure and constant worry that no doubt comes along with it? By continuing to work her ass off.

A few weeks after that second surgery, I went with a few other cast members to Comic-Con, in San Diego. The fans at Comic-Con are hardcore; you don’t want to disappoint them. There were several thousand people in the audience, and, right before we went on to answer questions, I was hit by a horrific headache. Back came that sickeningly familiar sense of fear. I thought, This is it. My time is up; I’ve cheated death twice and now he’s coming to claim me. As I stepped offstage, my publicist looked at me and asked what was wrong. I told her, but she said that a reporter from MTV was waiting for an interview. I figured, if I’m going to go, it might as well be on live television.

That is true Khaleesi shit. Not just for being at Comic Con for the superfans that dress like Big Cat in the King Richards Faire video everyday. But for telling the God of Death “Not today” twice and absolutely crushing her role before, during, and after that terrifying prognosis was dropped on her lap. That’s the type of person who deserves a nickname like Daenerys Stormborn and all the success as well as accolades that come with being her being a key cog on the greatest show on TV.