(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The 33 Chilean miners who have been “buried” some 600 meters under the earth in a gold and copper mine for over two months are probably in good physical and psychological shape, according to two Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center physicians – who suggest with irony that spending time in a mine may become a popular “extreme” tourist experience.
Prof. Shaul Schreiber, chief of the medical center’s psychiatry division, and Dr. Pinni Halpern, head of its emergency medicine department, predicted to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that most of the miners would emerge unscathed.
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But they are both certain that the highly unusual situation – in which a team of healthy, hardworking men who are familiar with each other have been trapped for many weeks far from civilization and were provided with necessary supplies and advice just two weeks after the mine collapsed – will be well studied by researchers.
“It will probably be American researchers, who will be wellfinanced and experienced, who will work with Chileans to study this rare group,” Halpern said.
Schreiber said he thought there could be a few cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, but not necessarily.
“The fact that they are a homogeneous group, know each other well, trained together and were used to living and working underground as a team has probably reduced the danger of PTSD,” he explained. “I suppose there was shock at first, but as the time went by and the outside world made contact with them, they were just waiting for a rescue.
“I understand that a natural leader emerged and social hierarchies were established,” he continued. “There is plenty of space, food, oxygen and recreation. I don’t think there was great chaos. They will quickly return to routine life.”
If only a few people had been trapped in the mine, they would have felt much more helpless, according to Schreiber, who assisted tsunami victims in southeast Asia. Once the miners are pulled up in a narrow capsule, they will be examined by doctors in a field hospital and probably found to be well, he added.
“Social support is very important, and they should be encouraged to talk about their experiences. But coping with the 1,400 journalists at the surface and vying for the fattest book, movie and interview contract will be quite hair-raising,” he suggested with a smile.
Their condition can’t be compared with that of captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, said Schreiber, as the soldier has been alone for over four years, among hostile terrorists and isolated in very primitive and difficult conditions with no surety about his rescue.
The Sourasky psychiatrist advised that the miners return to their underground workplace as soon as possible after their rescue so they will not suffer from phobias. But some may want to change their profession, Schreiber said.
“It has probably been much more traumatic for the miners’ families than for the miners themselves, as the families do not know each other and are not friends; they should be getting psychological help,” he added.
Halpern noted that surviving for such a long time in a well-organized group and with supplies was almost unprecedented in history.
“They are 600 or 700 m. down, but they have the things they need to live,” he said. “They were trapped in a place they are used to and know it well.”
And the rescuers above have received advice from around the world on giving them a balanced diet without allowing them to gain weight, which would prevent entrance into the capsule, as well as ideas from the US National Aeronautic and Space Agency.
The miners have been kept in equal amounts of light and darkness so as not to disrupt their biological clocks, and given exercises to prevent thrombosis. They have also received vitamin D and calcium to ward off osteoporosis, and good sanitation and water supplies.
Even during the first two weeks, before they were found to be alive,
they preserved their food supply for 17 days. They have TV, hear the
news and get regular calls from family members.
“Some of the miners may have skin infections, as they have been in 31º,
humid air. There may be too much carbon dioxide, which could cause the
loss of calcium. But I don’t think their physical problems will be
substantial,” Halpern suggested. “The change in altitude is not
significant, as the Dead Sea is 400 m. under sea level, and reaching or
leaving it does not cause physical problems.”