A Day in the Life at UNMC

The lady in the dungeon

Phyllis Carter
Phyllis Carter

Phyllis Carter, when reached by phone, does not sound like a lady in a dungeon. Instead, she sounds sweet and nice, and so for a minute I hesitate to even bring it up, even though it’s the whole reason I am calling.

“Uh, do you know that people call you ‘the lady in the dungeon’?” I finally say, timidly. “Had you ever heard that?”

And she made a sound that was part laugh, part sigh, all patience. Oh, sure. She’s heard that before.

Phyllis Carter does not work in a fearsome medieval castle. Instead, she is the queen of UNMC’s and Nebraska Medicine’s white coats. Getting them in and out, making sure they are cleaned and then back to their owners. For decades, she did the embroidery, the names on these coats. It was a point of pride.

Officially, she’s a sewing associate, linen distribution, for Nebraska Medicine.

But because her seamstress’ office is underneath the Durham Outpatient Center (or is it officially under Clarkson or University towers? In an underground maze, who can keep track?), in the bowels of our modern, med center castles; and because it seems like she’s worked here forever (27 years), she has taken on almost mythical status.

An email somebody sent me about her even included a description of her workspace in a spooky font: the dungeon.

But she is a good sport, when told we wanted to write a fun story about her. Sure, she said. Come on over. Meet the lady in the dungeon.

Only, the place where she works is in no way a dungeon.

Well, except for one thing. When you knock, the door opens by itself! With no one there! Like in a horror movie!

Freaky.

But the space, if a little cramped, is bright. Almost cheery. You don’t find many dungeons with an adorable photo of the dungeon master’s great granddaughter, Lilly, who is such a cutie her bedroom is decorated in a frogs and lily pads theme.

And that – lilies! – came up because I was asking Phyllis advice about flowers and gardening, the way many of her visitors do.

Meanwhile, there are white coats everywhere. Hey, there’s dean of medicine Brad Britigan’s! Some people send theirs in once a week for cleaning, she said, some once a month, some, every six months.

Don’t worry, she said. The six-monthers aren’t physicians who see patients. “Usually the labs don’t bring theirs in that often,” Phyllis said.

For years, she did the embroidery, too. “One July,” she said, “I did 200 coats.” Her supervisor had decided to keep track.

The sewing machines are still there, but they aren’t used anymore.

This day was a little more stressful than most. There had been a computer glitch, so Phyllis was personally catching up on making sure linens got where they needed to go.

Every year, people ask if she is ready to retire, and every year she says she will see. But she likes her job, likes the people she works with. She often swaps stories about growing up on a farm with co-workers young enough to be her sons.

The linen crisis is averted. The interview about working in a dungeon is done. Time for lunch. Maybe soup. Phyllis Carter, “the lady in the dungeon,” is as nice as she seems. She leaves her office, the “dungeon” that isn’t one, heading above-ground, looking for soup.

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8 thoughts on “The lady in the dungeon

  • Phyllis has always been the most pleasant helpful person to work with. She knows inside and out what is happening with those coats, if you think about how many she sees you would realize how amazing that really is. Phyllis thank you for all your help over the years that you have personally given to transplant!

  • Phyllis is a wonderful lady to work with. I never hesitate to call her with my linen questions and she always helps you with a smile.

  • I am proud to say I have known Phyllis for all those years. We worked together for at least half of them. She is an awesome lady and I think she is really a gem. She is very helpful and talented, sweet, kind and I never heard her say a negative thing about anyone or anything. We not only crossed paths at work but also away from work, a couple of her grandkids and my kids had the same sitter. She also made my wedding dress and tailored my husband’s suit 20 + years ago. She is a really special person.

  • Phyllis has always been a pleasure to work with. She averted many lab coat crises in our lab. Thanks for everything you do, Phyllis!

  • Phyllis Carter has “saint” status with the Student Alliance for Global Health (SAGH). For years she has faithfully donated linens and scrubs that can not longer be used within the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine system for use by the medical facilities in underdeveloped countries such as Nicaragua, where these items are often in short supply. Her sweetness touches lives all around the world.

  • Thanks for all you do, Mrs. Carter – Your are an awesome asset and a truly wonderful lady. You are a real blessing to the Med Center.

  • Phyllis has always been so helpful and cheerful. Last year when UNMC was retiring Lab coats she helped me collect enough coats for 2 Omaha schools that needed them for their science labs.