THEIR little boy's persistent ear pain and fever sent the Shory family to and from hospitals and doctors' clinics for over a month.
Shivain's condition did not improve despite numerous prescriptions of pain relief medication and oil drops to clear ear wax.
One day, blood and pus suddenly flowed out of the four-year-old's left ear. "It shook me," said Shivain's mother Mrs Rakhee Shory, 36.
He was suffering from middle ear infection, but MrsShory didn't know it then. In any case, when Shivain suffered his middle ear infection three months ago, there was no vaccine to protect him from it.
Since then, GlaxoSmithKline has launched Synflorix, a vaccine which not only prevents children from getting middle ear infection, but also protects against meningitis, pneumonia and blood infection.
But Mrs Shory didn't have that benefit.
Worried, the freelance beautician took her son to see ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr Eng Soh Ping, who said he had to operate and soon.
As both Shivain's ears were infected, Dr Eng had to puncture holes in his eardrums and insert ventilation tubes. "It was heartbreaking for me see my little son undergoing general anaesthesia and surgery," said Mrs Shory.
The operation took 30 minutes.
Dr Eng, whose practice Ascent Ear Nose Throat Specialist Group is in Mt Elizabeth Medical Centre and Parkway East Medical Centre, said that middle ear infections are one of the most common childhood diseases here.
He said of Shivain's case: "Despite the course of antibiotics which we gave him, it could not control the infection as it was very advanced."
He checked Shivain's ears and found it "choked with pus".
"He was in pain and could not hear very well," said Dr Eng who made a cut in each of Shivain's eardrums and sucked out the pus.
After that, Dr Eng inserted ventilation tubes to air the ear.
"Recovery was quite dramatic. After the pus came out, he had no more pain," he said.
But recovery was not all smooth sailing.
Shivain continued to have pus coming out of his ears, on and off, for the first two weeks after the surgery.
But it stopped eventually. Today, the ventilation tubes in his ears are still there.
"The tubes will stay in there for about six months. They will slowly be pushed out by the dead skin cells and ear oil and will drop out by themselves," said Dr Eng.
Mrs Shory, who has two other children aged 11 and 15, said she and her husband spent over $3,000 for Shivain's surgery.
"We have some insurance which helped to cover some of the cost. The whole episode was very draining for the whole family and my son suffered a lot," she said.
Middle ear infections can lead to hearing impairment in young children and other complications. "The infection can spread and go towards the brain in children. This can lead to meningitis or even abscess (a collection of pus) in the brain," said Dr Eng.
Many children affected
Middle ear infection is common in the young here.
From May 1 last year to Apr 30 this year, 2,680 children here, aged below 10, were hospitalised for ear infections.
They stayed in hospital for an average of two days and their average bill size ranged from $460 to $940 according to the Ministry of Health's website.
Clinical Associate Professor Henry Tan, head and senior consultant, ear, nose and throat specialist at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, did a study on children with middle ear infection seeking treatment at the hospital.
The numbers have gone up over the years, from about 1,300 cases in 2005 to about 2,000 cases each for the last two years.
Clinical Assoc Prof Tan's study found that children of preschool age are most prone to middle ear infection and they are most sensitive to loss of hearing.
"This early auditory deprivation may have life-long effects on language and cognitive development," he said.
Since middle ear infection affects 10 per cent of the preschool population here, its consequences are significant, he added.
"Children with unrecognised middle ear infection are often thought to be inattentive, lazy, or a bit retarded," he said.
"It is a frequently occurring, yet preventable, childhood disease."
But he added that the Synflorix vaccine does not protect against 100 per cent of all ear infections.
The vaccination is recommended for children below two years old.
It costs between $150 and $170 per dose. The recommended vaccination schedule is three doses, plus a booster.
This article was first published in The New Paper.