By: STACIA GLENN
Florence “SeeSee” Rigney brushed off retirement as easily as she does the good-natured jabs from co-workers at Tacoma General Hospital for being the oldest nurse in recent memory.
Rigney, who will turn 88 next month, still bustles around the operating room wing with the energy of a woman half her age. She expects to be working at least another year.
More than 20 years older than the next senior staff nurse, Rigney is respected, revered and relentlessly teased.
“I kinda keep them in line,” joked Rigney, who blushed in embarrassment and dismissively waved her hand at fellow nurses who call her everything from a star to their hero.
Rigney got her nickname as a kid. She kept telling a teacher, “See, see,” to show how well she knew her lessons. The teacher started calling her “SeeSee” and the name stuck.
In 1946, she donned the stiff white uniform of a student nurse. In her home, she has a framed photo of herself as a fresh-faced nursing student, next to an old black-and-white image of what Tacoma General looked like back then.
Her career crisscrosses the map.
She started in Tacoma General’s operating room before going to work for a private doctor. She had stints in operating rooms in Atlanta and San Antonio, Texas, before her husband deployed for the Korean War and Rigney returned to Tacoma General. She spent a spell in Cheyenne, Wyo., but once again came back to Tacoma.
The couple adopted their first child in 1958, and Rigney shifted to working on an as-needed basis to fill shifts when the hospital was short-handed. When her daughter reached college and her son was in high school, Rigney was needed at home less so she worked more.
After her husband died in 1977, Rigney started full-time again, working 10-hour shifts three days a week. She found it kept her mind occupied and surrounded her with a second family. The hospital gave her plaques to mark her long-running career – five years, 10 years, 15 years. She can’t recall getting the 20th-year plaque.
When she was 67, she thought it time to retire.
“I stayed retired for about five months then I came back and here I am,” Rigney said. “I always thought I’d come back and work but I never thought I’d stay this long. I’m really very blessed my health is good and they want me to work.”
Supervisors and co-workers describe Rigney as one of the best.
Julie Christianson, who has worked with Rigney since 1980, said she is a “crack-up” who is full of great tales about what nursing used to be like.
She regales them with times before computers when charts and records were all hand-written, when staff nurses helped out in the emergency room delivering babies, before technology and equipment became so advanced.
Rigney is not an operating room nurse, handing doctors various instruments. She’s the nurse who sets up patient rooms and keeps track of supplies. Fellow nurses insist Rigney will knows half the patients and has a soothing effect on those she interacts with.
It’s difficult sometimes to keep up with the advancements, Rigney said, but she’s always learning.
“She can still run circles around people half her age,” Christianson said. “She’s very inspirational for the rest of us because she’s still working and she’s still sharp.”