Technology & Science

Chilean miners face mental, physical trauma

Psychologists and doctors are focused on the physical and mental effects that might plague the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean copper and gold mine once they reach the surface in the coming days.

Psychologists and doctors are focused on the physical and mental effects that might plague the 33 miners trapped in a Chilean copper and gold mine once they reach the surface in the coming days.

The miners have been trapped more than 600 metres underground in Copiapo, Chile, for two months, facing hunger and anxiety. The process of bringing them to the surface is expected to begin Tuesday night.

To get above ground, the miners will have to enter a 190 cm by 54 cm metal capsule that will carry them up the rescue shaft, a trip that could take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and involve several nausea-inducing spins.

Once above ground, the men will undergo a series of medical exams at a triage station.

Video from inside the collapsed mine shows a group of men in good cheer working together to ensure their survival.

The camaraderie will help them deal with their psychological trauma, said Peter Suedfeld, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

"I expect they'll come up with a feeling of pride about how they coped with this unprecedented experience," Suedfeld said Tuesday. "They didn't lose anybody, and they took care of each other."

Need to regain sense of control

The miners might experience insomnia, nightmares and anxiety in the weeks or months to come, but they are just as likely to experience self-confidence and a greater appreciation of family and friends, Suedfeld said.

Over the past two months, doctors have been managing cases of diabetes, hypertension and pulmonary disease among the miners from above ground. The men have been getting ASA to protect against blood clots during the journey in the rescue capsule.

The miners need a diet rich in phosphate, thiamin and potassium to prevent heart rhythm problems and cardiac arrest from cardiac failure, Dr. James Polk, chief of NASA's space medicine division, said at a news conference at Johnson Space Center in Houston on Sept. 7.

Adrenaline should help take them through the ascent, said Dr. Claire Pain, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto who specializes in assessing and treating patients with psychological trauma.

The men have been unified by their common need to survive, but they may now face jealousy or competition for book deals, said Pain, adding it might take a long time for them to return to normal.

Psychiatrists are on hand to look for signs of panic attacks, but its important to allow the miners time with their families so they regain a sense of control before they are assessed, Pain said.

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