SHE’D RATHER WORK THAN RETIRE

CATEGORY: LCN Bobby’s Lee County articlesPEPPER

SHE’D RATHER WORK THAN RETIRE

By Bobby Pepper

Daily Journal

For the past five years Flossie Mask has thought about giving up her part-time job at North Mississippi Medical Center.

A licensed practical nurse, Mask has spent nearly half of her life working 12-hour shifts in a day while caring for sick children and assisting women in labor. The Plantersville native is past retirement age, so most people would understand if she decided to step aside.

Mask, however, remembers the last time she retired. It didn’t take her long to unretire.

“I stayed retired for about two years,” Mask said. “I just got tired. I didn’t have enough to occupy my time.”

That was nearly 20 years ago.

Mask, who retired from working at a Kentucky hospital at age 65, returned to the 12-hour shifts as a part-time nurse in Tupelo. Mask, who turned 85 Friday, has been with NMMC for 18 years and doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.

“I love nursing and I love people,” Mask said. “I really feel like I’m useful. I just enjoy being around people and learning. I think it keeps your gray matter working.”

“Miss Flossie” was treated to a surprise birthday part Friday at the NMMC Women’s Hospital. The family, friends and co-workers who attended paid tribute to her longevity and her dedication to a profession she didn’t begin until she was in her 40s.

“She’s really an inspiration to all of us and to the patients, too,” said Judy Hughes, the head nurse of NMMC’s pediatric ward on the third floor. “The patients cannot believe she’s as old as she is. She’s very positive and energetic.”

Devoted worker

Mask, the medical center’s oldest employee, splits her work time between the pediatric wing at NMMC’s main unit and the obstetrics/gynecology department at the Women’s Hospital. Her work schedule varies from week to week.

“A lot of times she works two, three days a week, and we’re talking about 12-hour shifts,” Hughes said. “It’s like working full time.”

Mask, who underwent specialized training in OB/GYN and pediatrics during her LPN studies, said she enjoys working at both places especially at the children’s wing of the hospital.

“I work more there in the winter because there are so many sick children,” she said. “I only work this floor.”

Mask works closely with the RNs and LPNs at both places. Sandy Marlar, head OB/GYN nurse at the Women’s Hospital, said Mask’s abilities as a nurse are outstanding.

“She is someone we can always depend on,” Marlar said. “She’s very sharp. We don’t have to worry about Miss Flossie taking care of our patients.”

Like any medical employee, Mask is on call to come in to work at any time.

“I must please them because they call me all times of the day,” she said. “Sometimes they’ll call at 5 o’clock in the morning and ask `Can you come in and help us today?’

“When they call, I want to be there,” she added. “I know that they need me or they would not have called me.”

The medical center has been calling for Mask’s help since 1978. Before that, she began working at Miners Memorial Hospital in Harlan, Ky., in 1956 and worked there for 20 years.

“At that time they weren’t hiring LPNs here, so I went to the mountains of Kentucky,” she said. “I retired there and came home to Verona. I was going to stay retired. I was thrilled to be at home.”

Mask quickly became bored with retirement life. Still able to work, she sought a part-time time with the Tupelo hospital. She said LPNs were in so much demand at that time, the head of nursing asked her to come into work the following day.

She didn’t come in the next day. But by the next week, she was on the job.

Farm wife to nurse

Mask said when she was growing up, she wanted to be a nurse. Before she reached her career goal, she was a wife, mother and, unfortunately, a widow.

After high school, she got married and settled into the role of a farmer’s wife her husband managed a cattle ranch in Macon and raised four children. But in 1953, her husband died.

“I did not go to school until after my husband died,” said Mask, who never remarried. “I was 41 years old when he died.”

Mask and her children soon moved back to Lee County, finding a home in Verona. There, she saw an opportunity to realize her goal of becoming a nurse.

“I felt it was a good time,” she said. “I was going have to work, anyway. So, I just decided to go to school.

“Everyone thought I was crazy, except my oldest daughter. She said, `You do what you want to do, mother.’ “

She chose to become a LPN instead of an registered nurse (RN), and enrolled at Jones County Junior College in Laurel the only school in Mississippi offering an LPN program at that time.

After completing her school work at Jones County, she did her clinical work at a Greenville hospital and became a certified LPN in 1956.

Mask has devoted her life to nursing. Still, she has fond memories of her pre-nursing days as a wife and mother.

“I enjoyed being a wife and having my children,” she said. “I had a good husband. … I wouldn’t take anything for those 22 years I was married and had my children.”

Never stops working

There are many people who are amazed Mask is still working. Yet one who isn’t is her son, Charlie Mask.

“I’m not surprised she’s been in nursing this long. She has always worked,” he said just before his mother’s birthday party. “I don’t reckon she’ll ever retire, as long as they’ll let her work here.”

While away from work, Miss Flossie stays active at home with her favorite hobby piecing quilts.

“I’m not idle with my hands ever,” she said. “I love to piece quilts, beautiful quilts. When I watch TV, I’m piecing quilts.”

Charlie said his mother comes from a family in which other members have lived into their 80s. Flossie added that she’s been able to work so long because she’s taken care of her health.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I’m not lazy,” she said. “I don’t like lazy people. I always thought, God gave me this chance to go to school and be what I want to be.

“What motivates me the most is, as long as you are healthy it helps to stay active. If you want to get arthritis and all them different complaints that old people have, you just sit down and start feeling sorry for yourself and start thinking, `I’m sick.’ You’ll think you’re sick.”

By keeping a strict diet and staying active, Mask is able to bring energy and enthusiasm to work.

“She has a positive attitude,” Marlar said. “She puts us to shame sometimes when she comes into work and we’re all grumpy.”

Mask said she will retire when she gets sick or if her nursing skills slip. “If the nursing personnel think I should quit, I would respect them,” she said.

Hughes said she doesn’t forsee that happening anytime soon.

“She told me when she’s sitting at home her legs bother her because of poor circulation,” Hughes said. “But when she walks up and down these halls, she said she feels much better.

“Physically, I think it keeps her strong and alert. She is so helpful and positive of anybody concerning her work and helping people.”

Mask said she thinks about retirement every once in a while, but she knows it will take her away from something she loves.

“I love nursing and I love being with people,” she said. “I like the nurses here and I liked the nurses I worked with when I was in Kentucky.

“Every year I say, `Well, I may quit this year,’,” she added. “I’ve been doing that for the last five years. But now, I’ve just about decided I’m not going to quit.”

Click video to hear audio