Rescued mine workers are reaching the end of an ordeal that began some 69 days ago, when their copper and gold mine near San Jose, Chile collapsed, leaving the 33 men trapped. They have survived longer than any trapped miners in human history and have now been prepared for their ascent up a 2,041-foot escape shaft with treatments of aspirin, elasticized pressure stockings and dark glasses to protect them during the transition back up to the earth’s surface.
So far, all the rescued miners have emerged safely and without complications, including the diabetic among them. The oldest miner in the group, 63-year old Mario Gomez, was brought to the surface wearing a special oxygen mask due to the fact that he has a lung condition called silicosis. He has also been receiving antibiotics and medications to treat inflammation in his lungs.
An occupational disease that affects anyone exposed to silica dust, silicosis generally takes at least 10-15 years to develop to the point where symptoms emerge. The disease is the result of swelling in the lungs where silica dust irritates them. It causes difficulty breathing, and can also cause a chronic cough or shortness of breath when exercising.
Those at elevated risk of developing silicosis include people working in mining and quarrying, stone cutting or sand blasting, road and building construction, and in the manufacture of abrasives. The use of protective masks has lowered the incidence of silicosis and other industrial lung diseases in recent years. Gomez, who began working in the San Jose mines when he was only 12, has been exposed to the silica dust for decades.
Mine rescue compared to returning from outer space
The rescued miners will be followed for about six months, until it can be sure they have no remaining health concerns related to the mining accident that took place in August. Some experts like Concordia University’s Raye Cass have compared the rescue to returning to earth after a space mission. The men will have blood tests and treatments for dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, for liver and kidney functioning, and x-rays to determine how well their lungs are functioning. After more than two months in a dark and damp environment, their eyes will have to adjust to the light of day again, and they will be suffering accelerated bone loss. Makeshift sanitary conditions, lack of sleep and limited nutrition while trapped in the mine are likely to take their toll on the rescued miners as well.
Psychological well-being following mine rescue
The rescued miners will probably suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the harsh conditions and uncertainty of living trapped in the mine, and the huge amount of public attention they are receiving. Their survival has depended in large part on the ability of the 33-man group to take care of one another in a very close-knit community. That community dynamic has already begun to shift as rescue workers have begun to guide the men back to the surface, and as the first emerging miners are reunited with their families. Separation from one another in hospital, and later as they return home, will create even more change for the men who have already survived through enormous adversity.
Frank Bajak and Vivian Sequera, “14 Chilean miners emerge in problem-free rescue.” Associated Press / Yahoo! News
“Mental trauma the next challenge for Chilean miners.” CTV News
“Silicosis.” MedlinePlus (National Institutes of Health / National Library of Medicine)