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ORX Awards - Hanging Up Her Scrubs
America's oldest working nurse bids farewell.
Dan Cook | Editor-in-Chief
Publish Date: August 30, 2021   |  Tags:   OR Excellence
Rigney

Florence “SeeSee” Rigney, RN, figures it’s about time to slow down. The spry 96-year-old finally called it a career in July, retiring from MultiCare Tacoma (Wash.) General Hospital 75 years after she graduated from the same hospital’s nursing school. 

Finally, not in the sense that she was a burden to her staff. SeeSee was said to run circles around colleagues who were decades younger as she sped-walked three miles a day (according to her Fitbit) on a wonky knee to pull supplies for cases, prepare patients for surgery and set up ORs between procedures.

Finally, as in how did she perform such a physically and mentally demanding job for more than seven decades? “I don’t like to sit around — I’ve always got to have something to do. That’s my nature,” says SeeSee. “I don’t know exactly what made me want to become a nurse, but it was something that I always wanted to do. I love to interact with patients and give them the help that I can.”

SeeSee, who hasn’t worked in a year-and-a-half because Tacoma General’s leadership didn’t want her exposed to COVID-19, has been officially retired for a couple months now. She passes the time baking and has a standing monthly lunch date with younger former colleagues who retired years ago and waited — and waited, and waited — for her to join them.

This is actually SeeSee’s second attempt at retirement. She handed in her resignation letter on Oct. 30, 1990, when she was 65 years old, and spent time with her second husband traveling across parts of the country in an RV. She had always planned to work a couple days a week at Tacoma General for some extra money — pension plans weren’t strong in those days, she says — but had to wait six months per the hospital’s policy before starting the part-time work. Her husband passed away at much too young an age, says SeeSee, so she figured she’d return to full-time work to fill the empty days with activity and people. “At that point working became a challenge, and it just kept going,” she says.

And going, and going. SeeSee dialed back her full-time schedule to work two or three days a week only recently. This year, she received an award for working 30 years at Tacoma General — 30 years after she retired the first time.

SeeSee was a hardworking and dedicated nurse who was always available for her colleagues. When a pregnant nurse made a call for help to move a patient, SeeSee, in her nineties, was the first to show up. She was the first to show up for a lot of things.

“There’s always something to do — putting supplies away or cleaning your space — even if you’re not caring for a patient,” she says. “Some nurses do what they’re assigned to do and then sit down to visit with their friends. That drove me crazy, and I would get on people about it.

“Oh,” she sighs, “I was probably a little bossy.”

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