A year and a half ago, my older daughter was referred to the Health Promotion Board for a more thorough check-up following a school health screening. Her right shoulder blade had grown noticeably bigger than the other.
My worst fear came true after a visit to the clinic. Yanrong was diagnosed with scoliosis, a condition that causes a curvature of the spine.
An X-ray of her back showed a 35- degree curve in her spine. It got me very upset as I understood, based on Internet research, there would be no simple fix.
Without proper treatment, the condition will worsen - and not just aesthetically - as the child grows older. It can become life-threatening if the curved spine starts to press against the lungs and heart.
The doctor recommended surgery, but I could not countenance such a drastic first line of treatment.
My wife and I sought a second opinion and the specialist also broached surgery as the preferred option. Noting our reluctance, he suggested bracing, given that Yanrong's condition at the time was borderline severe.
Surgery is often the recommended treatment for a curve of 40 degrees or more.
The purpose of bracing is to prevent the curve from worsening, but it doesn't make it better.
It involves casting a custom-made mould for the scoliosis sufferer, who has to wear it for between 18 and 20 hours a day.
Sufferer is indeed the right word. Yanrong had to be corsetted in a hard plastic casing that prodded against her back all day, except for brief periods to shower or exercise.
To her credit, she bore it stoically. She did not complain about the intolerable heat during the hot months of July to September or when she had to put on the brace immediately after physical education (PE) lessons.
She even made light of the situation, joking about not needing a blanket on a cold night.
She wore the brace for 10 months. During this time, we got her to do stretching exercises and signed her up for ayurvedic massages.
Unfortunately, nothing worked. Two subsequent check-ups showed an aggressive progression of the curve to about 52 degrees.
At that juncture, I had come to accept the inevitability of surgery. Any further delay could make the correction harder. The greater the curve, the less the spine can be straightened.
Still, I tarried, hoping there was another way.
At the back of my mind was the thought that we really hadn't exhausted all non-surgical alternatives. There were yoga, aquatherapy, chiropractor treatments that we hadn't tried.
Surgery means cutting open the back and operating on the vertebrae that protects the spinal cord. It is a major operation that carries the risk of infection or paralysis, albeit a small one, if it's done by a competent medical team with proper equipment.