Assisted personal body care (APBC) tends to be regarded as an unproblematic nursing activity with little professional challenge. For severely ill patient diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) daily bathing and washing is, however, a significant self-preserving activity that requires substantial efforts on the part of both patients and nurses. The aim of this study was to report on the complex pattern of APBC in hospitalized patients with severe COPD and highlight significant characteristics that should be considered in clinical practice in order to support patients’ comfort and well-being. The study used a grounded theory design with a generative and constant comparative approach. The sample consisted of 12 cases of nurse–patient interaction, based on data from participant observation of sessions of APBC, measures of patient's perceived degree of breathlessness and individual interviews with patients and nurses after the sessions. Findings show that APBC in hospitalized patients with severe COPD is a complex integrated pattern of body care activities that can proceed with a greater or lesser degree of success. The main problem is how to keep the patient's breathing under control while optimizing comfort and well-being. Curtailing addresses this problem. Curtailing is a subtle, purposeful balancing of protection from breathlessness and promotion of patients’ present and future functional capacity in order to preserve their integrity. The idea that body care is a simple task belonging to patients’ private daily lives may obscure the importance of determining a mutual nurse–patient agenda and the professional nurse responsibility may consequently be nebulous. Finding in this study will contribute to the development of a comprehensive and detailed understanding of the APBC and suggest the need for further investigation of the interaction perspective.