Northridge quake spurs career change

A 6.7-magnitude earthquake and injury spurred Andrea Berger to quit the law firm for which she had been working and change to a career that would incorporate her background as a nurse. As the temblor shook her family’s house in Northridge, a falling dresser cracked her on the head just as she was getting out of bed, making the house look like “somebody had been butchered there.”

“If I hadn’t gotten out of bed, I would’ve been under it,” she said. “It makes you look at your life. … You say to yourself, ‘Look at what happened; I could have died.’”

Berger’s family huddled in a corner of the house during the tremors that quickly followed.

“You hear everything falling off shelves, you hear crashing, the front doors were flapping open and closed,” she said. “It was strong enough to make the locks break. Every car alarm and burglar alarm is going off on the block. The noise was deafening, and all we heard was crashing and banging and alarms.”

After the earthquake, friends drove Berger to Simi Valley Adventist Hospital, where, because there was no power in the building, she received stitches and a tetanus shot on a gurney in the parking lot.

Berger had trained as a nurse, but later attended law school and had been working as an attorney for two years. She gave her notice a week after the earthquake, and for the next few months she instead concentrated on rebuilding the family home. She is now a nurse-attorney working on oversight compliance at a health plan in Woodland Hills.

Today, the family keeps emergency toolkits in the front hall closet, and Berger always carries water, clothes and an extra set of sneakers in her car’s trunk.

“Make sure there are shoes by your bed [and] car keys and purse are near the front door on a chair,” Andrea said, running through a list of earthquake precautions. “These are things that just stay with you.”