Natalie Mazzarella, April 2021
Natalie Mazzarella's Story Behind Beauty
I always thought serious car accidents would sound like what you hear in the movies- screeching, crashing, big, awful. Loud. But then it wasn’t. It was what can only be described as absence; like all the sound in the world had been sucked into a vacuum except for one big crack; a collective blast of metal, airbags, and shattering bones. And then?
Blackness. It feels completely obvious and unnecessary to revisit what an “unprecedented year” 2020 was for all of us. COVID-19. Racial inequity. Social injustice. A struggling economy. Hungry families. Political upheaval. A toilet paper shortage (that still makes no sense to me.) Loss after loss after loss. And for me and my husband, a catastrophic car accident is also on that list. That’s where I’ve been for the past year- dealing with injury, dealing with trauma, recovering from surgeries, rehabbing, relearning everything, and trying to figure out how to move forward. Like so many of us, but in my own way, that’s wear I am now.
Natalie in the hospital after her life changing accident
On March 12, 2020 on California Interstate 138, my husband and I were in a head-on collision; hit by a car driving 60mph, going the wrong way in our lane after its failed attempt to pass an 18-wheeler truck. We had less than a second to react after seeing her coming. To say it’s a miracle that we survived at all is not only an understatement, but a statistical anomaly. We should not have made it out of that car alive.
There’s a lot about the accident I don’t remember. I was in the passenger seat, knocked temporarily unconscious on impact. A blessing, I think; my body’s way of compensating for the shock and trauma it was experiencing. What I do remember? Thinking “I don’t want to do this” right before we were hit and an overwhelming sensation that everything felt wrong.
When we stopped spinning, I heard my husband’s voice. He asked if I was OK. I said “yes,” but I knew I was lying. My ears were ringing. Everything felt wrong. My right hand was in the air, wedged between two airbags. I didn’t remember how it got there. It didn’t look like a hand anymore. Everything felt wrong. The car was smoking. I tried to lift my arm to open the door. My arm wouldn’t move. Someone opened my door. I tried to bend down to slide out from under the airbags. I couldn’t move. Someone cut the airbags and pulled me out of the car. My feet touched the ground. Shock. Pain. Everything felt wrong. I looked at my husband. “I’m going to faint.”
Blackness. When I came to, I was lying on the ground on the side of the highway. It was cold and rainy. Several bystanders had stopped to help, one an off-duty EMT. I kept asking my husband how we were alive. Someone held a purple umbrella over me to block the rain. It took 40 minutes to get an ambulance; and the pain grew worse by the minute. I hurt everywhere while simultaneously losing feeling in parts of my body. It was strange. It was terrifying. The ambulance arrived. We drove another 40 minutes to get me to a hospital. Everything felt wrong.
Being submitted as a trauma from a high speed vehicle accident feels exactly like being on a medical TV drama. A team of 9 swarmed into my trauma bay. There were portable machines and questions. They cut off my clothes. Someone shined a light in my eyes. "Check for internal bleeding." "Get a head CT." I was diagnosed top to bottom in under ten minutes. A kind nurse put my hair in a scrunchie. I had a complete collarbone fracture with displacement, a torn rotator cuff, a concussion, severe bruising in my abdominal wall, a shattered radius, a broken knuckle, a fractured ulnar styloid, and a severe bone bruise in my right knee. Two days later, my wrist and collarbone were repaired in surgery with titanium plates and screws. When I was put under and prepped for surgery, my nurses found rocks underneath me; remnants of the highway pavement I had been lying on for 48 hours. I spent 6 days in the hospital all together, right as the COVID-19 pandemic hit its most fervent peak.
The next nine months were a blur of physical therapy, x-rays, pain management, occupational therapy, doctor appointments, and TENS therapy (trans-electric nerve stimulation). I relearned how to write my name, close a button, hold a fork, and brush my teeth. I showered by sitting in a chair. I couldn’t sit comfortably without a mass of pillows. I couldn’t sleep. I was in more pain than I thought possible. I couldn’t bear any weight. I couldn’t rotate my palm up. My husband did everything for me. In September, I had a second surgery. And I started the whole process over again. More healing, more physical therapy, more relearning. I worked harder than I had on anything in my life. I amassed a new appreciation for what the human body is capable of. And while my body doesn’t look or work exactly like it did before, it’s getting there. And for now, that’s enough.
Life feels very different at present. The person who went into that car on March 12th never made it out. To be honest, I don’t even recognize her anymore. But, maybe that’s OK. It’s impossible not to change when everything shatters into pieces around you, so long as you figure out how to piece yourself back together. Making peace with your pieces, if you will. And we’re figuring out how to do that the best we can.
And that's my story, or a part of my story...Going through what I have, what I love most about myself can only be described as a newfound appreciation for my body. I've always spoken very openly about body positivity. It's one of the pillars of my platform on Wear You are Now. Then there was the accident. And everything changed. After all I've been through in the last year, the amount of respect and adoration I have for what my body is capable of, how much I can overcome (both physically and mentally) and my resolve to accept permanent change has increased 100 fold. Strength is what I love most. My strength is where my unique beauty lies.
*Much of this piece was originally published on Wear You are Now by Natalie Mazzarella. We asked Natalie to add in some additional information based on Stories Behind Beauty's mission and we're so happy she's here to share her story with the SaltyGirl Beauty community.
You can find Natalie on her blog, instagram and facebook.
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