JUSTICE

The letter to a nurse

SHONA MCKAY May 7 1984
JUSTICE

The letter to a nurse

SHONA MCKAY May 7 1984

The letter to a nurse

JUSTICE

The introduction of the document came as a surprise on the sixth day of nurse Phyllis Trayner’s testimony before the Grange commission’s inquiry into 36 baby deaths at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Police lawyers introduced a letter sent to Trayner in September, 1982, that implied that she was involved in some way with the baby deaths. Trayner forcefully denied the allegations contained in the anonymous letter. But its appearance added another bizarre twist to the heavily publicized inquiry.

The letter was typewritten and unsigned, and the writer stated: “They [the police] kept questioning me over and over. I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore and I told them what I had suspected all along about what was happening. I finally had to admit what I had seen you doing on at least 2 times. I always admired you, but you need help, get it now.” Trayner, who gave the letter to her lawyer in September, 1982, who in turn had passed it on to the police, said she had no idea who sent it. She said the sender may have been trying to frame her for the deaths.

In spite of the dramatic courtroom proceedings and the revelation of new evidence, by week’s end it was clear that the appearance of the former nursing team leader, who was on duty when 29 of the most suspicious deaths occurred, could shed little light on the tragic events at the hospital between June, 1980, and March, 1981. Throughout her testimony Trayner contradicted the previous assertions of colleagues—in-

cluding statements by nurse Bertha Bell that she had seen Trayner use a syringe to inject something into the intravenous line of baby Allana Miller just before she died. She also angrily protested that she was not responsible for a series of “dirty tricks” following the start of the police investigation into the deaths, including an incident in which heart pills were found in her food and that of another nurse. But Trayner was frequently unable to remember the circumstances surrounding the last moments of many of the infants who died mysteriously. At one point her lack of recall caused Douglas Hunt, lawyer for the Ontario attorney general’s office, to suggest that if sodium amytal, a truth serum, were administered to Trayner it might improve her memory—a request Justice Samuel Grange quickly vetoed.

As the 10th month of the Grange commission drew to a close last week, it became clear that the first phase of the inquiry would not end on schedule. Although Trayner was expected to be the last witness in the investigation into the baby deaths, at least one other nurse will be called because none of the other witnesses was able to provide details about several of the infants who had died suspiciously. That further witnesses will have more exact recall than the 12 nurses who have already testified seems doubtful. Trayner and nurse Susan Nelles each remembered fewer than a third of the 36 cases being examined. After three years, noted Nelles, many of the deaths had “melded together.”

SHONA MCKAY