Healthcare workers who looked after burns victim Heather Bills have given conflicting accounts of what happened the night she suffered a fatal brain injury.
Bills died in 2013 while in the care of Middlemore Hospital in south Auckland, having survived a huge fire at her Orakei home six weeks earlier.
The 64-year-old was rescued from the explosive blaze and admitted to hospital with serious burns.
However, she died six weeks later on December 26, having suffered an irreversible brain injury after being given a large dose of insulin.
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She died with her daughter at her side, and an inquest at Auckland District Court has heard conflicting accounts of what took place in the lead-up to her death.
Healthcare worker Sharon Connors told the court that her shift on the night that Bills died was dull and boring.
“Time stood still and I was glad the shift was only four hours,” she said.
She claimed she remembered hearing the machines in Bills’ room beeping but said they weren’t an issue.
Bills’ daughter Michelle Maher questioned Connors by reading part of the statement of nurse Harmeet Sokhi, who also cared for the burns victim.
In her earlier statement, Sokhi described the noise of the machines in Bills’ room as being loud enough to be heard from the corridor outside of her room.
“When I got to Heather’s room I found that Sharon, the watch, seemed oblivious to the fact that three of the machines were beeping,” she said.
Sokhi said she was perplexed that Connors seemed to be unmoved by the loud beeping of the pumps.
Nirmala Salim was handed over care of Bills when Connors’ shift ended.
Connors said Bills was sleepy but well and did not mention the monitors going off earlier in the shift, Salim said.
But Salim soon noticed Bills’ heart rate was racing and that she was in pain.
“I could tell she was different and I was concerned something was wrong,” Salim said.
Salim was capable of taking a blood sugar test and providing information to doctors, but was not told by the resource nurse to monitor Bills’ blood sugar levels.
Salim was aware Bills had suicidal thoughts but said she did not know anything of her personality.
“I did not [know] anything related to her death,” Salim said.
BLOOD SUGAR ‘WITHIN NORMAL LIMITS’
The court had already heard how a nurse told doctors that Bills’ blood sugar levels were within normal limits.
Dr Lit Son Yoong and Dr Amanjeet Toor gave evidence earlier on Monday:
Yoong was the registrar on duty when Bills’ condition deteriorated. He told the inquest he believed he had asked for her blood sugar levels.
“They told me her blood pressure and blood sugars were fine. I recall that her blood sugar was five or six, one of those two numbers. Anything above four and under 11 is fine.”
That information led the doctors to rule out the possibility Bills was having a hypoglycemic, or low blood sugar, episode, he said.
Bills’ blood pressure was unremarkable, he said.
Dr Amanjeet Toor told the inquest Bills sounded rattly, and the nurse noted she looked more puffy and was sweating heavily.
His initial impression was Bills was suffering from an acute pulmonary oedema, or fluid in the lungs.
“I asked what her blood sugar levels were and [was] told they were normal. I didn’t consider her to be hypoglycemic and to question the nurse.”
Bills was described by medical staff as depressed, non-engaged, and uncommunicative.
In her evidence clinical resource nurse Fiona Morse said she had heard Bills had banned all visitors, including her own daughter.
During a conversation after Bills’ death, Morse was told by a colleague she’d seen a blood sugar kit in Bills’ room.
“She said she’d wondered why it was there because Heather wasn’t a diabetic.”
Bills’ daughter broke down when questioning Morse about her mother’s suicidal thoughts.
She mentioned a conversation she’d had where her mother talked about assisted suicide in Fiji.
“I told mum I’d help her with anything but I wouldn’t help her with that.”
Charge nurse manager Vina Singh told the court Bills had constantly asked staff if she could die and if she’d done enough to die.
Earlier in the inquest, nurse Tania Sachill told the court Bills had been quite distressed.
“She was frustrated about being alive. She was shocked at herself that she had stuffed it up. She would make comments like, ‘how could I be so stupid?’ and then whack the bed with her hands.
“She was saying how she was useless and had never done anything right. She said we should let her go and she was just a burden,” Scahill said.