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Miners face challenges when finally rescued

October 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
What will it be like for miners to breathe fresh air, see sunlight after being trapped in a hot, humid, small, dark space for two months? The Chilean miners are just days away from freedom, but doctors say the transition into the outside world will not be as easy as you might think.The American drill sent to dig a rescue tunnel has done its job. Now the job of safely recovering all 33 Chilean minors trapped half-a-mile below the surface is up to a team of doctors, and there are a lot of variables.

Emergency room physician Dr. George Fallieras has been following this story from day one. He outlines what happens when 33 men are stuck in space not much larger than a bedroom.

"Lung infections from the hot humid dusty environment and the inability to move around too much are some major concerns," said Dr. Fallieras. "Your lungs don't expand as well as they should. They are also dealing with skin and fungal infections."

But now much of the health focus is on the long-planned ascent in a confined capsule. Each miner will wear an oxygen mask, heart monitor, and a temperature gauge. All this squeezed in a space not much bigger than a basketball hoop.

Doctors gave the men anti-nausea drugs. And while panic attacks are a big concern, Dr. Fallieras say anti-anxiety medication may do more harm than good.

"Those medications tend to be sedating," said Dr. Fallieras. "They can have some effects on your blood pressure, your respiratory rate and drive."

As the miners are being slowly pulled upwards, doctors say one of the big concerns is blood clots. Each of the miners will be wearing special socks that are designed to improve circulation. Also the miners have been given aspirin for a week to help thin the blood.

"That stagnant flow of blood is a set up for thrombosis, which can be very dangerous," said Dr. Fallieras.

Each man will be monitored for long term physical and mental health problems such as post traumatic stress.

After the euphoria of the rescue wears off, experts says the effects of being trapped for so long underground could be similar to that of a prisoner of war returning home.

Both the government and the mining company the men work for have agreed to provide long term follow up care.

Reports say the miners are arguing because they all want to be the last rescued. Rescuers say the most vulnerable men will ascend first and the healthiest men will be pulled out last.


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