There was no time to take a detailed medical history, or even to ask the patient whether she was covered by insurance.

When a voice from the kitchen yells "Ouch!" and then announces that the stupid oven has burned the cook's arm, it is time for immediate action. Even I know that.

Although I am not licensed to practice medicine in this jurisdiction, I have a mind that reacts to emergencies with the speed and directness of a steel trap. I called out, "Y'want me to go see if we have some bandages or splints or something?"

"Look on the shelf where we keep the first-aid stuff and get me the tube of Butesin Picrate that you'll find there," the cook said. "It's a burn ointment. Also bring some 4-inch gauze bandage. We have two rolls. Open the older of the two."

Semper paratus, that's us. In our case, the term can be loosely translated as "Always prepared for unexpected emergencies, especially if they're the kind of emergencies we expect." The ointment and bandages were precisely where my slightly seared cook had predicted they would be.

Following the instructions that had been given to me, I now began trying to puzzle out which roll or bandages had been purchased first.

I studied the labels closely. There was no date on either. The same manufacturer had made both. Both said, "Gauze Bandage, Sterile." Both were 4-inches wide.

But the steel trap mind noticed that one box said "3 1/2 yards long" and the other said "10 yards long." The price on the 3 1/2-yard roll was $1.38. The price on the 10-yard roll was 67 cents.

I took both boxes to the kitchen. "I'm sorry," I said, "but I can't figure out which one was brought first."

She glanced at the two boxes, then said, "Open the one marked 67 cents, clown." She did not appear to be amused.

There was very little ointment left in the Butesin Picrate tube, so the next day I stopped at a drugstore and bought a fresh 1-ounce tube of it for $2.09.

When I got home, I found that my wife had also bought a tube; same product, same size, but purchased at a different store. She paid $1.28.

If you think I ought to mention the name of the store that sold the ointment for $1.28, you obviously are not blessed with a mind like a steel trap. Focusing attention on the price difference would not be likely to cause the store that charged more to bring down its price. But it would very likely cause the store that had charged less to raise its price to $2.09. POSTSCRIPT

FYI: The cook says that while she was in the cut-rate store she checked on the current price of that 4-inch gauze bandage. The 3 1/2-yard roll has now risen to $1.59. The store no longer stocks the 10-yard size. NEW PRODUCTS DIVISION

So long as you're visiting our kitchen this morning, I might as well explain that the cook burned her arm while trying to remove a defunct light bulb from the rear of her oven.

"You can't use just an ordinary 40-watt bulb inside an oven," she told me. "You have to ask for a special applicance bulb that is designed for use in very hot or very cold places."

So I dutifully went off and bought a GE "appliance bulb" that was sealed inside a clear plastic bubble and mounted on a piece of cardboard.

When I got it home, I stabbed at the plastic bubble with the point of a pair of scissors. The Scissors bounced off. No penetration.

I tried again. Nothing doing. I tried the point of a gadget that slices through the tops of metal cans with the ease of a teaspoon going through whipped cream. The can opener managed to dent the plastic a little, but it refused to create an opening.

I fetched a commando dagger from my den and tried that. The dagger is razor sharp and made of hardened steel that looks like it could penetrate a brick wall. That finally did the trick. I got the bulb out and installed it.

I would like to suggest to General Electric that it forget about its line of appliance bulbs and concentrate instead of the new plastic it has apparently developed for its bubbles. It could be worth millions, gentlemen. I may be just what the airplane industry needs for making engine mounts that don't break off in flight. And a few tests at the Aberdeen Proving Ground might tell you whether the stuff can also be used as armor plate for tanks and naval vessels.

Meanwhile, please don't bother to inform me that the bulb could have been removed without tools by simple peeling the cardboard from the plastic. The cook has already told me. That woman has a mind like a steel trap.