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Out of The Darkness
Article Date: 13 Oct 2010 – 10:00 PDT
 
As people all over the world await with bated breath for the successful conclusion of the nail-biting dramatic rescue of the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground, attention now turns to the fact that for the miners themselves, another journey begins, one that could prove as challenging to mind and body as the entombment itself: the road to recovery and normality.

The rescue operation at the San José copper and gold mine in Copiapó, in the heart of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile, began just after midnight local time on Wednesday, as the first miner, 31-year old Florencio Avalos, wearing special sunglasses to protect his eyes, was brought to the surface among jubilations from the waiting crowd of rescue workers, families, reporters and the Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and his wife.

Video footage of the rescue operation underground was captured by the miners themselves, reported El Mercurio. It shows how Manuel González a rescue technician, who went down to the miners first, prepares each man to enter the torpedo-shaped rescue capsule, less than 28 inches in diameter (71 cm).

 
The 33 Chilean Miners
The 33 Chilean Miners
 
The men, aged from 19 to 63, have survived underground for 69 days since the mine collapsed on 5 August. For 17 days there was no news of them, until a drill searching for air pockets punched a hole through to the underground room they men were in. Until then they were cut off, with no light.

American astronaut Jerry Linenger, who spent five months isolated and confined in space aboard the Russian space station Mir, told CNN that until that point, the miners were in “survival mode”, which is “tough psychologically because you are in a life and death situation”.

All the reports so far say that the miners appear to be in very good physical shape. But the Chilean health authorities are taking no chances, and preparations to receive the men as they emerge from their underground prison have been extensive.

 
As this is the longest time that miners have spent underground before being rescued, nobody really knows what to expect, the chief medical officer of the rescue team, Dr. Jean Romagnoli, told the Los Angeles Times.

Experts from NASA, with experience of treating astronauts, have been advising the Chilean health team as they prepare to receive the miners. They suggest the main areas of concern will be the effects of confinement, sleep disruption and deprivation, lack of sanitation, and other problems like lack of sunlight, and nutrition.

There may also be other effects, such as due to the poor air quality thought to exist in the mine.

Dr Neil Schachter, a specialist in respiratory care in New York, told ABC News that he expects some of the men will have respiratory infections.

 
One billion people have watched on television the exit of the first miner.

As well as the physical effects, there will be concerns about the miners’ mental health.

 
It has been suggested that some may experience post-traumatic stress, with panic attacks, nightmares, and being overly startled by sounds, smells, or even images similar to what they may have experienced underground such as the sounds of drilling or rocks falling.

There will also be new stresses to cope with, even as a result of joyous occasions such as reunions with family and friends, and rejoining society.

And of course, the miners are now celebrities; their lives have changed dramatically, and demands on their time and attention from the press and media will be intense, as will the pressure to decide how to respond to them.

The deputy chief medical officer at Johnson Space Center, Dr Michael Duncan, told CNN news that:

“The work is just beginning when the miners get out of the mine.”

 
Bolivian Miner
23 year old Bolivian Miner
Chile’s Health Minister, Jaime Manalich, said things were going well so far. The miners’ health is “pretty good”, he said, and the first two miners have already been seen by eye doctors, skin doctors and had chest X-rays at Copiapó Hospital.

The miners are first spending time with their families in a special meeting room before being taken to hospital.

Although they were strongly recommended to go to hospital for evaluation and checks, the miners did have the option not to do so. But Manalich said they all said they would go.

 
 
 
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