One of the best things I read all week was actress Emilia Clarke’s description of how she nearly died twice after filming the first season of Game of Thrones. If you don’t know who Emilia Clarke is, she’s a British actress who, in addition to Game of Thrones, has had roles in the films Solo and Terminator Genisys. In any case, Clarke had apparently never told many people, even those she worked with, about her near-death experience which began when she collapsed in a bathroom after a workout:

I heard a woman’s voice coming from the next stall, asking me if I was O.K. No, I wasn’t. She came to help me and maneuvered me onto my side, in the recovery position. Then everything became, at once, noisy and blurry. I remember the sound of a siren, an ambulance; I heard new voices, someone saying that my pulse was weak. I was throwing up bile. Someone found my phone and called my parents, who live in Oxfordshire, and they were told to meet me at the emergency room of Whittington Hospital…

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.

One night, after I’d passed that crucial mark, a nurse woke me and, as part of a series of cognitive exercises, she said, “What’s your name?” My full name is Emilia Isobel Euphemia Rose Clarke. But now I couldn’t remember it. Instead, nonsense words tumbled out of my mouth and I went into a blind panic. I’d never experienced fear like that—a sense of doom closing in. I could see my life ahead, and it wasn’t worth living. I am an actor; I need to remember my lines. Now I couldn’t recall my name.

Clarke did recover her ability to remember her own name and for a while, it seemed the near-death experience was behind her. And then things got much worse:

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.

One thing that is so striking about her piece is that she is really honest about experiences that most people, especially most people in the public eye, would probably be hesitant to reveal, such as the fact that she spent time in such a depression that she considered suicide. Or the fact that there were long stretches where she was going through the motions of her life but always thinking she was about to die at any given moment. One such incident happened at Comic-Con in San Diego just as she was about to go on stage in front of thousands of fans.

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.

It’s a dark story, and yet you can sort of imagine feeling as she did under similar circumstances. She was living her childhood dream but, at the same time, living through a medical nightmare that dragged on for years. Her real-life story is probably more dramatic than most of the movies she’s been in. Honestly, I’ve never been a huge fan of her work. She’s good in most things and certainly very beautiful, but I wasn’t eagerly awaiting her next project. But reading her real-life story makes me like her quite a bit as a person. She’s got a toughness and an honesty that’s pretty refreshing in a world of PR micro-managed, Hollywood starlets.

Today, Clarke posted a thank you to everyone who responded to her story saying she was genuinely overwhelmed by the response.


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