Clinician's Digest

Clinician's Digest

Trauma Below and Above Ground

By Garry Cooper

November/December 2011

It’s been more than a year since the 33 Chilean miners, trapped for over a month half a mile underground, emerged to worldwide celebration. But despite everyone’s best wishes and many efforts to help them, by all accounts, they’re doing poorly. It’s been reported that 29 of the 33 continue to suffer from such disabling symptoms that they’ve been unable to resume normal lives.

“They’re taking uppers, downers, and mood stabilizers,” says Jean Romagnoli, a physician who’s been involved with the miners since the rescue operation began. “They’re overprescribed. They don’t understand why they’re taking them, but they’re fed up with the pills.” Several are still having flashbacks. One miner, for reasons he can’t explain, has built a wall around his house. Raised in a culture that values toughness, several had predicted they’d go back to work in the mines, but only two have been able to return. One of them tried walking into a mine months after their rescue, and could last only two minutes. When Jonathan Franklin, a British journalist whose book 33 Men relates their ordeal from the initial cave-in to their post-rescue struggles, accompanied another to the mine entrance, the man started crying. Franklin asked him why, pointing out that he’d survived. “Yes,” the former miner replied, “but my happiness is still inside there.” Considering that mining is the only work most of them have ever done, and that they live in a poverty-stricken region where virtually no other work is…

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