THE trapped miners are slowly sipping drinks hour by hour and crawling across their cage in a fight to keep alive.
Survivors Todd Russell and Brant Webb have been using miners’ head lamps to check their watches before replenishing their starved bodies hourly with a nutritional supplement.
Doctors said it was vital the pair did not get too much food too soon to prevent their organs going into shock.
A team of doctors, ambulance paramedics and a psychologist are getting the rescue team to relay messages to the survivors about strict rations and exercise.
The miners could crawl short distances inside their underground prison to move their arms and legs, and were snatching cat naps, Tasmania Ambulance Service Supt Wolfi Rechsberger revealed.
Nutrition experts have been consulted about exactly how much fluid, sugar and protein the men’s systems can handle.
Controlled amounts of the nutritional drink Sustagen are being given to the men.
They have been given containers with enough supplies to last eight hours at a time.
“Because they haven’t eaten for so long they are having a small amount each hour,” Supt Rechsberger said.
Tasmanian Retrieval Services director Andrew Hughes said the intake of nutrients was carefully calculated.
“Too much food too quickly can cause problems with organs such as the heart, lungs and brain,” Dr Hughes said.
Launceston General Hospital’s emergency department is ready to treat the men when they are rescued and transported by ambulance. The intensive care department is also on standby.
They will be blood-tested and have food and fluid intake and general health monitored to stave off complications.
Dr Hughes said that, like others, he was surprised the miners had not only survived but escaped major injury.
The men could spend just 48 hours in hospital if the recovery goes to plan. They are also likely to need physiotherapy to ease stiff and sore muscles and joints after more than a week in a confined space.
Supt Rechsberger said the men had shown remarkable mental strength and were coping “exceptionally well”, drawing on their experience as miners to handle the claustrophobic conditions. However, post-traumatic stress could not be ruled out.
Nine paramedics — including four from NSW who helped during the 1997 Thredbo ski resort landslide that trapped Stuart Diver for three days — are dealing with this disaster.