Neurosurgery resident Richard Roberts is getting paged by the OR at a University of Pennsylvania hospital in Philadelphia. It's typical, he says as he apologizes for cutting the interview short.
The workload is barely manageable. But it's still not as stressful as the days he spent inside Charity Hospital in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Roberts was a resident at LSU during the hurricane, and was one of the surgeons chosen to stay with the patients to wait out the storm. After six days of waning water and electricity, he and the patients were finally airlifted out amid gunshots.
"The things I saw at Charity on an everyday basis were perhaps more violent," he said. "But being a resident of New Orleans my whole life, and looking out over my call room with water as far as the eye could see, was certainly mind boggling."
Granted, Roberts had options that many of Katrina's victims lacked -- an education, a place to go, marketability. But the disruption was severe nonetheless.
In the days after he was evacuated, Roberts went to Baton Rouge, then met up with his wife in Chicago. Homeless, the two traveled around like nomads, visiting his wife's family in Chicago, then to a friend's in Colorado and a week in Idaho with Roberts' sister.
"The traveling really made us want to settle down," he said. "We'd been eating fast food and living out of our suitcases and really eager for a destination or a goal."
Roberts finishes his studies this year, and several medical schools offered to take in displaced residents. He settled on the University of Pennsylvania and headed for Philadelphia. The shell shock of moving to a new city after spending his 38 years in and around New Orleans was significant.
"Driving into Philly, the first thing I noticed was how crowded it was," he said. "In New Orleans, it's not very pedestrian and there is parking for everyone's car. In Philly, there are pedestrians everywhere."
He didn't know the neighborhoods, didn't know the streets. He moved into a brownstone and he'd never lived that close to anyone before. "The houses are stuck together," he said incredulously. Roberts also found that East Coasters sort of live up to their brusque reputations. "It's not that anyone is mean per say, just abrupt," he said.
He had to start from scratch. And he felt like his past had been erased: Every report card, cards from his first and second birthdays, baby shoes, his father's World War II and Korean War memorabilia -- all consumed by the flood.
His brother and sister will probably return to the house and bring anything salvageable back to his parents in Idaho. But home will never be home again; and he's not sure if he'll settle in Philadelphia.
"Eventually someplace will feel like home. Probably when my wife and I start our own family, that will be home for us," he said. "But it won't be like how New Orleans was."
asap staff reporter Colleen Long covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi.