The saga began on Nov. 10, 950 miles off the coast of South Africa, when Yazykov e-mailed Carlin about swelling and throbbing pain in his right elbow. From his description, Carlin suspected Yazykov had an abscess that, had it burst internally, could have caused a potentially life-threatening infection. Following a 14-step procedure e-mailed by Carlin, the sailor performed surgery on himself. But, because he had taken so many aspirin for his pain, he couldn't stanch the bleeding, even with a tourniquet. Before he grew too weak to continue sending messages, Yazykov wrote, "Watching my life, drop by drop, leaving me." Finally, the fatalistic Yazykov took off the tourniquet and put pressure on the wound instead. "Somehow," he says, "the bleeding stopped." Exhausted, he fell asleep.
Meanwhile, Carlin, a 1985 Tufts grad who as an emergency room physician launched his practice for travelers in 1996, worried about the sailor. "That was a long night," says the married father of three. Yazykov, who has one son, awoke six hours later, sore but on the mend—and ahead of four other boats. "When he got to Cape Town," reports his proud doctor, "he was able to hold up a beer bottle."