• As more intensive care units (ICU) are adopting the policy of unrestricted family visiting, families are playing an increasing role in the unit. This role may be restricted to being involved in discussions and decisions related to the patient or may entail a caregiving role. • This study examined how families and nurses interact to increase or decrease the family's involvement in the ICU, how nurses maintain control, how families remain on guard, endure and find their niche in the ICU. • The techniques of grounded theory were used to develop a model of the process of family integration into the ICU. • This model was developed around the core variable of 'looking out for the patient - looking out for ourselves'. • The perspectives of ICU nurses, families and ICU patients in the process of looking out for the patient while they look out for themselves are discussed, as well as nurses maintaining the position of power and families remaining on guard and enduring the ICU experience.
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