One of Heather Bills' nurses, a suspect in an open police homicide investigation, says she is still shaken by the mysterious death of her patient, an inquest has heard.
Bills, a 64-year-old grandma, died at Middlemore Hospital on January 2, 2013, six weeks after she was badly burned in an explosive house fire.
It was later discovered that she suffered a suspicious and massive hypoglycaemia-related cerebral injury.
On the evening of November 22, 2012, Bills was pulled from the blaze at her Orakei, Auckland, home by neighbours.
The fire was deliberately lit and she suffered burns to 35 per cent of her body.
She was then treated at the National Burns Centre and intensive care as her condition improved at Middlemore.
However, Bills' health quickly deteriorated on December 26-27, as confused doctors tried to save her.
After an investigation it was discovered that Bills died as a result of higher levels of insulin, "introduced to her body from the outside".
One of Bills' nurses, who has interim name suppression, worked during a 7pm to 7am shift on Boxing Day, 2012.
She said she had cared for Bills two to three times, but medical records show that she cared for Bills on eight occasions, the court heard.
During the shift the nurse could "hear beeps from machines going off in Heather's room".
"The beeps were loud enough to be heard from the corridor," the nurse told the court today.
However, the nurse's evidence directly contradicts the testimony of health care assistant Sharon Connors, who said yesterday that "the beeps appeared normal".
Connors, also a police suspect, was working a four-hour shift from 7pm to 11pm, keeping an eye on the burns patient who had expressed suicidal thoughts.
"I did not see any need to raise an alarm or call other staff for help," Connors told the court yesterday.
The machines are designed to get louder if the problem with the patient is not rectified.
When Connors may have taken a brief break is also contradicted by evidence from the two.
Swipe card records show Connors re-entered the burns unit at 8.42pm, but the nurse said the time was later in the night.
The nurse also said she gave Bills a bed bath between 9pm and 10pm, but Connors has told the court she can't recall any such treatment.
However, when the nurse entered Bills' room she said she found Connors "oblivious" to the fact that three of the machines were beeping.
She said Bills' oxygen valve was not connected and the patient's oxygen levels were low.
Connors, however, said she couldn't recall the beeping being of concern.
"I can't remember, machines do make noises but that [the nurse's description] sounds terrible," she said.
"I didn't seem concerned about Heather, I'm sure if there was anything untoward I would've rung the [emergency] bell," Connors said.
The nurse estimated the beeping had been continuing for about two to three minutes, based on the volume of the noise.
"It seemed a little odd that Heather did not respond to the beeps," the nurse said.
"She wasn't concerned and wasn't complaining."
When the nurse began to treat Bills the burns patient "opened her eyes and smiled", she said.
This was the first time Bills had smiled in the times the nurse had treated her, the court heard.
Heath care assistant Nirmala Salim, the third police suspect, took over from Connors at 11pm.
Moments later Bills woke and began to "moan and groan", Salim said.
"I noticed that her heart rate reading was abnormal, and that her heart rate was raised. I asked her what was wrong but she did not answer me."
Salim rang the nurses' bell about 11.15pm, and the nurse came into room.
"[The nurse] told me that usually the patient is like that. I told [the nurse], 'no', the heart rate is a little high, that I could not take responsibility for that, and so she said she would be back in a few minutes," Salim said.
"After 10 minutes, I saw that Heather was getting worse and her pulse was going high, and she was still unresponsive."
Bills' heart rate had spiked to 145 beats per minute.
"I could tell she was different and I was concerned that something was wrong," Salim said, then decided to ring the emergency nurses' green bell at about 11.30pm.
When the nurse returned, she said she could see Bills was sweating heavily, her condition clearly deteriorating rapidly, the court heard.
After midnight Bills looked "confused" and was slurring her speech, the nurse said.
Bills' also had "big bulging eyes" and was "not obeying any commands".
As the 64-year-old's condition worsened the nurse said she conducted a blood sugar test with a glucometer, without the direction of one of the now-assisting doctors.
The nurse performed the test because Bills "seemed like she had a low blood sugar" based on her symptoms, she said.
Growing emotional on the witness stand, the nurse told the court she was "still shaken" by Bills' catastrophic deterioration and eventual death.
"I have tried my best to recall all that happened," she said, crying.
"So much happened then and so much time has passed since then."
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757