Alleged murder victim Phillip James Nisbet appeared anxious and “terrified that he was incredibly unwell” doctors noted when he was taken to Christchurch Hospital on the day his wife is accused of attempting to murder him by poison.
Mr Nisbet, 47, was taken to the Emergency Department by ambulance after becoming ill in the central city during his work as a truck driver. He believed he had a spider or insect bite.
The Crown has alleged that his wife, Helen Elizabeth Milner, 50, made two attempts on his life on April 15, 2009, using the anti-allergy and sedative drug Phenergan. It says that she knew from experience that Mr Nisbet had bad reaction to the drug.
Milner is also charged with the murder of Mr Nisbet a few weeks later on May 4, when the Crown alleges she drugged him with Phenergan in his evening meal and then smothered him as he lay in bed unconscious.
Dr Shamil Macbool Mohamed Haroon, giving evidence by video-link from Birmingham, said he had previously worked at Christchurch Public Hospital, including time in the Emergency Department. He had no recollection of treating Mr Nisbet that morning but he had the medical notes.
His vital signs were normal, but he had complained of dizziness and nausea at work. Checks showed his blood pressure and heart rate were low.The doctor had recorded that he appeared anxious, but there was no record of what was causing the anxiety.
Mr Nisbet said he believed he had been bitten on the shin by an insect or spider as he gardened two days before. He had developed pain and swelling in his leg and felt weak and nauseated. He had noticed he found it slightly difficult to speak.
Dr Haroon said the neurological examination was normal and it was extremely unlikely he would have discussed the possibility of a stroke. He had noted a red area on Mr Nisbet’s shin, but he had not noted it as being the mark of a bite of sting.
In cross-examination, defence counsel Rupert Glover said a defence expert witness would say that Mr Nisbet’s symptoms were “more consistent with an insect bite”.
Dr Jamie Strachan gave evidence by video-link from Britain about working as a medical registrar in the Emergency Department at Christchurch Hospital in 2009. He had the medical records but had little recollection of seeing Mr Nisbet when he attended the department that evening for the second time on April 15.
That evening, Dr Strachan noted: “Continues to feel lethargic. Feels he has no power in limbs. Unable to remember short term events. Symptoms increasing over the last week. Has slept most of the day.”
The notes recorded slurred speech, but he was able to talk in complete sentences, and his observations were stable. He was reviewed by a doctor and discharged at 11pm and sent home with his wife, for review by his own doctor if required.
Tests had showed nothing abnormal. Mr Nisbet again spoke of a spider bite, but the doctor noted he was “terrified he was incredibly unwell”. He was “catastrophising the situation”.
Cross-examined, Dr Strachan said he had heard that some anti-histamines, such as the Promethazine administered by ambulance staff earlier in the day, could cause anxiety. It was a rare effect.
The trial was played a recording of Milner’s evidence at a Coroner’s inquest into her husband’s death.
She said he had become depressed and dispirited because he wanted to move to Australia and she was reluctant to go because she was going to become a grandmother.
On a visit to Australia, he had an insect sting and had taken a Phenergan tablet which had “really knocked him”, she said. He had slept for six hours.
The day before his death, they “had a nice day”, she said, going to Coffee Culture which was one of their favourite haunts.
Milner told the coroner: “He seemed very calm. Looking back now he was too calm.”
The coroner noted from a text message that he planned to see his son next day to return a sweatshirt that he had washed.
The coroner asked: “He was thinking ahead to the morning at that time. What happened to make him change his mind?”
Milner replied that in the evening he had seemed fine – calm and organised.
The suicide note she found in his briefcase had referred to his son not being his son.
A Nisbet family member asked at the hearing about a suicide note they had been shown at the funeral which was different to the note before the coroner. The earlier note made no reference to his son not being his son, and was signed by hand.
Another member said she had seen a note where there was an attempt to write Mr Nisbet’s signature, but it was not his signature.
Today is the fourth day of Milner’s trial in the High Court at Christchurch before Justice David Gendall and a jury. The trial is scheduled for three weeks.