This post was inspired by BJ Miller, MD ~ a palliative care physician at Zen Hospice Project who thinks deeply about how to create a dignified, graceful end of life for his patients, and encourages us to apply design thinking to this global challenge. You can watch his Ted Talk here.

“Let death be what takes us…not a lack of imagination.”

BJ Miller, MD

In the Bathtub


The bathtub may seem like a strange place to start a story, but as I had a particularly awful bath the other day, it provoked me to put pen to paper, so to speak. It was the end of a long, cold day, and I was in a state of mind that said, “I want to relax. I want to enjoy. I want to stretch out and feel my whole body.” It was that last part that stung me, for as you all know, the modern American bathtub is no place to stretch out, unless you happen to be fewer than three feet tall.

As it is, I scrunched my 6’1” frame into the tub, and that’s when I encountered the second problem: tepid water. Although I had the hot turned all the way up, my water heater apparently wasn’t up to the job, and I spent my bath time alternating between submerging upper torso and lower limbs, trying to suck what heat there was out of the water. It was a miserable experience.

Then I had my bath epiphany.

Are you surprised? Did not the ancient Greek scholar Archimedes make one of his most important discoveries in the bathtub, shouting “Eureka! I have found it!” with his epiphany? Baths have a way of bringing out the creative in us. Showers are even better. They are kind of like a “turbo” bath.

In any event, my idea is to retrofit a cruise ship with many large, luxurious bathtubs where one can truly stretch out. The water will be kept fresh and hot. The air will be scented. Candles and ferns will be nearby, perhaps a skylight overhead or a large window looking out to the sea. Lovely music will play. Staff will attend your every desire and need. Your body and soul will relax in total comfort, and then…you die.

Yes.

This is the ship of last resort ~ a floating palliative care hospital where one comes to die. Everything will be designed around the guest, from the music to the decor to the staff, and everything will be designed make dying as easy as it can be. There will be painkillers aplenty. You can smoke if you want to…anything. Why not? Why not let someone who is about to die do whatever the hell they want to? You want to hear Guns & Roses as you drift off, or the voices of your children? We make it happen. You want a bourbon with your last breakfast? We do that too. Make it a double. Why not? Really. And because our ship floats just outside territorial waters, we are not subject to personally invasive laws from the morality police that tell you how you should live and die. That should be your choice, and on the ship of last resorts…it is.

Funny things happen in the bathtub. I may even take one again someday. Out to sea perhaps?

But not anytime soon, I hope. I have more living I want to do.

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