The distraught parents of 12 Thai boys, who have been stranded in a cave for weeks with their soccer coach, have not been told whether their children are among those rescued, a family member told CNN.
Four of the boys were pulled out of the cave in northern Thailand late Sunday night and are recovering from their ordeal in a newly converted isolation ward at a nearby hospital. But they have yet to see their parents.
Four more boys were carried out of the cave on stretchers Monday, an eyewitness told CNN.
The boys, all part of a youth soccer team known as the Wild Boars, were found last Monday after going missing more than two weeks ago. Operations to rescue them from a narrow shelf of rock deep within the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave complex are still underway.
Instead of being reunited with their children, the boys’ families have agreed to remain at the cave site until all of the boys and their soccer coach are brought out of the cave, a relative of one of the Wild Boars told CNN.
Last week, ahead of Sunday’s complex operation to rescue the boys, Thailand’s Health Secretary, Dr. Jessada Chokedamrongsook, warned that they would have to be quarantined for a short period of time before being allowed to see their families.
Doctors are monitoring them for any illnesses they may have picked up in the cave and their quarantine will reduce the risk of infection.
Following his visit last week to the Chiang Rai Prachanukroh hospital, where the rescued boys have been taken, Chokedamrongsook said that the children would “be kept away from the parents for one to two days and will stay in the care room,” before a further evaluation by doctors for five to seven days.
While attending to their physical health is currently the priority, the boys are also likely to develop short-term psychological symptoms after their rescue.
Dr. Jennifer Wild, associate professor of experimental psychology and consultant clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford, said that it will be important for the boys to focus on the fact that they’ve gotten out safely, that their teammates still in the cave are being helped and that they will soon be reunited with their families.
Wild said that keeping the parents away from their children did strike her as an unusual decision, but said she was sure the boys would have been given “a rationale about why they haven’t seen their parents yet.”
When they are reunited, Wild said, the parents should “let their little boys know that they’re there for them and to get them back into a routine. They’ve been through this ordeal, and they need to focus on moving forward.”
Authorities have refused to confirm names reported in local media, but speculation about the identities of the eight boys who have been successfully evacuated from the cave is rife in surrounding areas.
In the small town of Mae Sai where the cave is located, it’s all anybody is talking about it.
On Saturday, the boys were able to write letters to their parents. In the personal messages, written in faint blue ink on lined paper, many boys told their parents they loved them.
The youngest member of the team, 11-year-old Titun, said in his note that he wanted to eat fried chicken.
His father told CNN that when the soccer-mad boy comes home he can have anything he wants.
In the short term after their escape, the kids may develop one of many psychological symptoms, said Dr. Andrea Danese, head of the Stress & Development Lab at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London in the UK, in a statement.
“They may become fearful, clingy, or jumpy; they may fear for their safety; they may become very moody or easily upset (or, in contrast, they may become detached or numb); or they may develop headache and stomach-ache related to the intense distress,” he said.
A wide range of factors might influence how the boys cope with the ordeal, and return to normalcy, added Dr. Neil Greenberg, professor of defence mental health at King’s, in a statement.
“It is also likely, given their age, that the nature of their communication with their families will also affect the children; anxiety expressed by their families could easily erode a child’s resilience,” Greenberg said.
“On the other hand a positive, ‘it’ll be just fine’ approach may be an effective way of allaying their fears.”