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Meet Florence Riley, the oldest Nurse in America by Eric Johnson - News - Nurses Arena Forum

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Meet Florence Riley, the oldest Nurse in America by Eric Johnson by katty : October 17, 2016, 12:58:20 PM
TACOMA, Wash. -- Florence Rigney's friends call her "See See".

And let's be honest here: See See is getting up there in age. But she still gets into her car and drives to work two or three days of every week.

Way back in the day, at the end of the war (the big one, World War II) she was a nurse.

Of course, a lot has changed since then. But, one thing remains a constant, and that is the stunning fact that See See Rigney, who entered nursing school in 1943, is still very much a practicing nurse at Tacoma General in 2016. Not a glorified mascot ... not a part-time book-keeper. She's a real nurse in a real hospital doing the things that real nurses do.

Walking with her while she's on the job I ask, "How many years now for you in this business?"

See See replied, "Well, I've been a nurse for 70 years."

"Seventy years?" I say. The number is astounding. How does anybody do anything for 70 years?

"Seventy!" she exclaims, as if none of it surprises her one little bit.

See-See in an operating room, doing what she does, is a thing to behold. She becomes a blur as she scurries about preparing the operating room for a surgery.

"I can't stand not doing something," she says as she moves a table into place

See See pulls stuff and pushes carts and moves pillows and gets things ready. She just doesn't stop.

As it turns out, See See is the oldest working nurse in America.

"You must love people ... to do it this long," I comment.

"I do. I like to help people. And, I'm glad and I'm very thankful and I'm very blessed to be able to do this at this age."

"Ninety-one?" I ask.

"Ninety-one!" she answers, her bright eyes smiling.

There's only thing to say about that. "Wow."

There's another nurse in Indiana who's 90 years old. She called up See See one day.

"When she called me up she said, 'We're the two oldest working nurses in the country!' "

See See politely corrected her. 'I've got a year up on you ...," she replied. As she tells the story there's a knowing twinkle in her eye. Don't try to horn in on See See's accomplishment. She won't have it.

Last year they had a 90th birthday celebration for See See. She came into the room and everybody yelled, "Surprise!". There was food and balloons, and lots of fellow nurses who marvel at this marvelous woman.

"One of my co-workers put it on Facebook and then it went viral! I don't do Facebook! My granddaughter said, 'Grandma, it went viral!' Well, it was crazy."

Think about the changes she's seen.

"When I first started working on pediatric, we had a pediatric ward here which was all children, and we'd just started using penicillin. What a change!"

She's seen all the advances; the flu vaccine, laser surgery, robots, computers... even fit bits! She wears one on her uniform and taps on it as we chat.

"So far I've walked 3,511 steps," See See calculates proudly. "Sometimes I walk three miles."

The other nurses can back that up.

Co-worker Anthony Davis says, "See-See runs circles around people half her age. We actually have people running from See See. When See See's coming they run because they know she's gonna put 'em to work!" Le laughs as he says it, perhaps imagining how absurd it must sound.

Both of See See's husbands have left this world. She has kids and grandkids to share her life with. And of course, the kids she works with now at Tacoma General.

Nurse Heather Parham says, "It is amazing working with See See, she's one of the greatest women I know. I don't think she likes to be bored. She keeps busy, she wants to help people." Heather pauses and then adds, "She's a wonderful nurse."

How could See See have imagined way back in 1943, when she got into the business, that she'd still be at it 70 years later, still helping people?

I tell her about a rumor I've heard, that maybe she's actually contemplating retirement, at long last.

She confirms, "Maybe next year I think so. Paul, my supervisor says I could continue working here forever if I wanted to. But, I think one of these days ..."

Think of the cumulative effect this woman has had: the thousands of patients, the millions of kind words and smiles, not to mention all of the joy and heartbreak.

She considers it for a moment, perhaps imagining herself with no job to go to, no people to take care of, no outlet for her irresistible irrepressible energy. "I'm going to have to go out and volunteer or something because I don't think I can sit home and do nothing. You can only go to lunch so much!"

I look at her there in her scrubs, just as adorable as a person can be, and I think about a photo they showed me of See See when she first started, with dark hair, looking sharp and eager in her old school white nurse's uniform.

Seventy years of surgeries and flu shots, scared kids, bedpans, thermometers and all the rest. Seventy!

How incredibly generous of her! What a gift See See has given to the world.

That's why she's my hero.

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