Before much of Tacoma, Washington wakes up, Florence Rigney, 91, is already out the door.
Placing her coffee in a cup-holder, she drives herself to Tacoma General Hospital, where she has worked as a nurse for more than 70 years.
Known to friends, colleagues, and patients as “SeeSee,” Rigney is believed to be the oldest working registered nurse in America.
“I have something to get up for in the morning,” Rigney told NBC News. “And I do like to be able to interact with patients and give them what comfort and what help I can.”
Her job at Tacoma General requires her to buzz about the surgical suite with the speed and dexterity of someone half — or one third — of her age.
And if you plan on keeping up, you’d better wear comfortable shoes.
Rigney sets up operating rooms to the specifications of the surgeon and the needs of the case, and helps prep patients for surgery.
Colleagues consider her speed and dedication inspiring.
“You can never have a moment where you go, ‘Ugh, I’m too tired,’” hospital technician Greg Foland said. “If you hesitate for even a second she’ll just keep on going.”
Keeping going is a bit of a motto for Rigney, who retired at 67. That lasted six months.
“I always knew that I wanted to come back and work a little bit, but I never realized I’d stay for 25 years,” she said.
When Rigney started nursing, penicillin had just been introduced. The biggest change she’s seen aside from the obvious medical innovations is the duration of patient stays. In the old days, she says, patients could stay for 10 days or longer after surgery. Now most go home in a day or two.
A video celebrating Rigney’s 90th birthday went viral in 2015. At the time, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued a proclamation congratulation the country’s oldest working nurse. News stories followed and still two years later, “SeeSee” is a bit of a celebrity.
“When we have any new residents or new nurse students come in they always say, ‘Is SeeSee working today? Can we see her, can we meet her?’” said nurse manager Cilje Kennedy.
Rigney says she cherishes decades of memories, including names of patients she cared for and thank-you mementos they’ve shared with her. Her 92nd birthday is approaching in May, and while she has reduced her schedule to just two days a week, she admits she will eventually hang up her scrubs for good.
“I just feel very honored that they’ll still let me work,” she said.