UK HealthCare

UK Emergency Department Nurses Featured in Worldwide Documentary Film

Michelle Lyon Akpunonu, a nurse in the UKHC Emergency Department
Michelle Lyon Akpunonu, a nurse in the UKHC Emergency Department, checks a patient's vital signs. Photo by "In Case of Emergency."

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 13, 2020) — If you've ever wondered what a day-in-the-life of an emergency nurse looks like, a new documentary is giving the world an up-close and personal look.

"In Case of Emergency: Without Them, We Don't Stand a Chance," features rare, behind-the-scenes footage of nurses and their patients in emergency departments across the nation. The documentary, produced by Carolyn Jones, is several years in the making. Her team is "focused on helping the American public see how critical nurses are to the health of our nation." Learn more about the film and its mission.

"In Case of Emergency" features three emergency nurses at University of Kentucky HealthCare's Chandler Emergency Department: Michelle Lyon Akpunonu, Khay Douangdara and Karina Molina. Each was interviewed and followed by the documentary crew in January 2019 to give insight to various topics and issues that nurses face every day. Their answers are real, raw and powerful.

Patti Howard, the enterprise director of Emergency Services for UKHC and the immediate past president of the Emergency Nurses Association, is proud to see UKHC featured prominently in such an important film.

"We are so honored that UKHC was included in this compelling documentary," she said. "Carolyn's ability to tell the story of what emergency nurses do and the impact they have on the lives of others is unbelievable."

UKNow is talking with each nurse ahead of the premiere to learn more about their roles in the ED and why they feel this film is important.

Get to know Michelle Lyon Akpunonu, a staff nurse who is currently working in the UKHC Trauma Intensive Care Unit. She talks about what it means to "do everything" to save a patient and about primary care in the ED.

UKNow: What inspired you to become a nurse?

Akpunonu: I wanted a job that was going to challenge me but also be meaningful. There are many difficult days, but the day that a family thanks you for their care even though their loved one did not make it is a day you never forget.

UKNow: What do you love about working in the ED?

Akpunonu: I love working in an environment where teamwork is the focus. You couldn't get anything done without the help of your coworkers. I enjoy that you never know what is going to come through the door.

UKNow: What message do you hope this documentary sends?

Akpunonu: I hope it helps people understand what nurses face every day, especially emergency department nurses. I hope it helps the community have patience when they have to wait in the ED, not knowing what is going on in the room next to them.

Get to know Khay Douangdara, a division charge nurse of Emergency Services for UKHC, working in the emergency departments at both Chandler and Good Samaritan Hospitals. He discusses respecting the work of an ED nurse, helping families navigate end-of-life and bringing ED stories to Capitol Hill.

UKNow: What is your main responsibility as the division charge nurse?

Douangdara: There are many responsibilities that are required of the charge nurse of the ED, including making sure that we have resources for all nursing staff, coordinating patient flow within the ED and ensuring that our patients receive the best care possible.

UKNow: What do you hope the community will learn from this film?

Douangdara: As an ED nurse, you face many challenges every day. We are dealing with the opioid crisis, death, violence in the emergency department, personal and professional struggles and, of course, the new challenges with COVID-19.

I hope this film helps people gain a better understanding of what we deal with and the struggles that happen, not only for patients but for the staff in the ED.

UKNow: Speaking of COVID-19, besides the changes to policies and procedures, how has COVID affected your daily work life? How has it affected you mentally?

Douangdara: The biggest thing we want the general public to understand is that we are here to help and provide necessary care; however, we need your understanding and cooperation with adhering to the guidelines that are set, especially wearing masks.

For me personally, dealing with COVID has been a significant personal struggle. My wife is currently pregnant with our second child. Since I work in such a high-risk area, I have always been concerned about bringing COVID home to my family. I would never want to put my young child and pregnant wife at risk. As a family, we have had to take significant precautions to be safe.

Has COVID been mentally challenging for me? The answer is definitely yes.

Get to know Karina Molina, a division charge nurse at Chandler Hospital. She also works intermittently as a team leader at Good Samaritan Hospital and in UKHC's Makenna David Pediatric Emergency Department. She is tackling the subject of nurse abuse in the ED.

UKNow: What do you love about working in the ED?

Molina: I thrive off of organized chaos and that is exactly what you will find in any ED. I started my career in Houston Texas and was nervous that I would not find another team as impeccable. I was wrong. Our team has incredible energy and cohesiveness. My stay in Kentucky was supposed to be temporary, but I cannot seem to leave. I love my job and my co-workers have become my family. We take care of each other inside and outside of work.

UKNow: How has COVID-19 impacted your work?

Molina: COVID has become our norm. I try to be transparent about my feelings and my fears with my family and friends. It has been truly challenging at work and I make sure to check on my coworkers to ensure they are holding things together as well. We have to take care of one another.

Personally, I care for my mother, who is immune-compromised. I have a daily routine after work where I take my scrubs off before I go inside my home (sorry, neighbors). My biggest fear is bringing COVID home to my mother and losing her - I do not think I would be able to forgive myself. I have not given my mom a hug since March and I have not seen the rest of my family in almost a year.

UKNow: What message do you hope this documentary sends?

Molina: I hope the world will see that we are human, too, and that we care deeply about people. I also hope it gives everyone in health care the courage to speak up against violence.

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The virtual premiere of "In Case of Emergency" will be held on Emergency Nurses' Day on Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. A live virtual Q&A session will immediately follow. UKHC is hosting a private viewing party at the Cinemark Theater in Fayette Mall.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.