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The medical community has been slow to catch on to the diagnostic value of remembered dreams, but "funny feelings" that tell us things are not quite right sometimes can save our lives.

The 2010's may be the era of the zombie movie, but the 1960's were the era of the mummy movie. When I was a kid in the 1960's, dreams about mummies played a significant role in my health.

In 1960, all the other kids who attended a birthday party and I caught measles. (This was the era before vaccinations.) Most of us also developed pneumonia, and I had a particularly nasty case. I have vivid memories of my mother standing over my bed, expressing worry that my fever had hit 105 degrees F (about 40.5 degrees C), while I simultaneously was dreaming I was being chased by mummies. 

In those days, it was common for caring mothers to wrap up their children in a blanket when they got a fever. I am sure I was tucked tightly under the covers even when I had the 105 degree fever. When my fever broke, however, my mummy dreams ceased.

That may have been because I was no longer "under wraps." The mummy dream was probably a way for my brain to tell me I was sick, and then end of the mummy dreams was probably a way for my brain to tell me I was well again.

From Mummy Dreams to Zombie Dreams

It's now more than 50 years later, and movies about the living dead are in vogue. One evening a few months ago, I had an especially vivid dream that my deceased father was standing by my bedside. He told me me I was soon to die but everything would be OK. Somehow I knew that the "dying" part of the warning was optional. In my dream I asked my dad if he were really there, and he answered indignantly, "Well, I certainly think I am." 

Sure enough, about a week later, I suffered a cardiac arrest. But because I took the warning seriously I had arranged to be in a hospital room tethered to a heart monitor, and at the exact moment I "died," the head nurse, a nurse in training, and a diabetes educator all happened to walk in my room at the same time. The alarm bells went off at the monitoring station, and the heart surgeon who performed an emergency 3-hour operation a few minutes later happened to walking down the hall less than 10 steps away. I "died" three times that afternoon, but because I was in the right place at the worst time, I suffered no lasting damage from the experience.

Dreams Aren't Diagnostic, But They Point Out the Need for Diagnosis

My experiences, of course, are anything but unique. Human beings are really good at figuring things out, and we tend to want instant enlightenment. We don't want to have to go through the laborious process of documenting and rationalizing our thought processes, and dreams are one way our brains provide us with the information we need right now.

Albert Einstein once said something to the effect that it is impossible to solve problems with the same thinking process that created them. Dreams allow us to tap the potential of non-linear thinking to give us insight into problems of all kinds, but especially problems with our physical health. But how can we remember and use the health guidance of our dreams?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Cervini P, Newman D, Dorian P, Edwards J, Greene M, Bhalerao S. Folie à deux: an old diagnosis with a new technology. Can J Cardiol. 2003 Dec:19(13):1539-40.
  • Glucksman, ML, Kramer M. The clinical and predictive value of the initial dream of treatment. J Am Acad Psychoanal Dyn Psychiatry. 2011 Summer: 39(2).263-83. doi: 10.1521/jaap.2011.39.2.263.
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