SeeSee Rigney is something else. I’ve followed the twilight of her surgical nursing career that has spanned seven decades through online articles and features on national magazine television shows. The 96-year-old retired in July, ending her incredible run as the oldest working nurse in America.
I’d tried unsuccessfully to set up an interview with SeeSee for more than a year. When I read about her retirement, I reached out again to her hospital’s PR department and a rep finally responded with a simple one-line email that said I could call and included SeeSee’s number.
She picked up halfway through the message I was leaving on her answering machine — old school caller ID — and we talked for close to 30 minutes about her career. Although her voice occasionally faltered, her mind was as sharp as a tack as she recapped a life well lived.
SeeSee loved being a nurse. She loved caring for patients. She loved being around her teammates. She loved working and broke up on the phone when she talked about a career cut short, relatively speaking, when the pandemic ended what age couldn’t.
A few days afer we talked, an email popped into my inbox from Carol Cappella, who wrote to tell me she was retiring as the administrator of the Delray Beach Surgery Center in South Florida. Carol is a dear friend of the magazine, someone I’d reach out to for straight talk on how surgical facilities operate. Some sources tell you what should happen. Carol tells you what actually does.
She’s looking forward to spending quality time with her husband while they’re both healthy enough to road trip through the Northeast, hit the links and live a life uninterrupted by the stressors — mental and physical — of running a surgery center.
Carol is excited to slow down. Sort of. She’s never not worked, and had to come to grips with losing a large part of her life. Jobs become careers and careers become part of our identity, for better or worse.
Carol says she’s always enjoyed coaching colleagues, mentoring new nurses and building businesses over her 46-year career, and echoes SeeSee’s sentiment that it’s difficult to say goodbye to essentially a lifetime’s worth of work. She told me using your talents in a job you love is the greatest journey you can give yourself.
That sentiment struck me as the editorial team huddled last month to review the nominations we received for this year’s OR Excellence Awards. The annual exercise is an important reminder that success in surgery requires dogged dedication and hard work. Above all, it demands an inspiring level of passion.
Maybe you can’t wait to retire, to wake up without worrying about surgeons, schedules and supplies. Be careful what you wish for and enjoy the journey, warns Carol, because retirement will arrive before you know it. Unless of course you find it nearly impossible to leave a career that’s so much more than a job, and end up sticking around long enough to take a run at SeeSee’s title. OSM