Hello! I am in search of information about the kind of lung damage that is caused by extended exposure to coal dust (or any of the other crap one breathes while in a mine.) Actually, all I need to know is whether there is some sort of illness or disease that is minor for most people, but would be fatal or life-threatening for someone who had spent a lot of time in a mine, and what their deaths would look like. (These characters will have access to only the most basic medical care.) Thank you!
So this is a really cool ask, because there is exactly the disease that you are looking for! It exists! In the real world!!
It’s called Black Lung, or Coal Worker’s Pneumoconiosis (CWP). Basically, as someone keeps working in areas with coal dust, they develop essentially chronic bronchitis, which progresses more towards fibrosis, where the tissue in the lungs actually becomes tough and fibrous (and not so much soft and breathe-y).
There’s a really good description of the disease on Medscape (my go-to, Mayo Clinic, is fresh outta Black Lung info, so I’m reccing some provider-level material here): http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/297887-overview
In the end stages, it’s gonna look like any other horrific lung disease: lots of coughing. Black sputum is typically associated with lung cancer but would make a good dramatic element in this case; coal miners tend to cough up black anyway from all the dust that lives in their nasal passages. They’ll probably have barrel chests from exercising their respiratory muscles so hard to breathe in. Oxygen might help them at home but without transplantation there’s not much to be done. They’ll struggle to breathe, have barely any exercise tolerance, and, in the hours before they die, might turn pale and/or blue at the lips, gasp, and more.
It’s also worth noting that increased pulmonary strain can cause pulmonary hypertension, which is its own separate beast entirely.
I’m sorry your characters are gonna have a very, very bad time, but at least I can help you write about it! Good luck with your story, we need more coal miners in fiction.